Written by Lloyd, one of our CBT Therapists
As 2021 draws to a close, we begin to reflect on the past year. For many, 2020 and 2021 appear to have blurred into one year, losing track of time, opportunities and in turn missing the chance to achieve what we originally set out to do. These reflections can leave us feeling lost, a bit directionless, and for many, with feelings of hopeless. Therefore, it’s no surprise that we seek to address these feelings and try to give ourselves a new sense of direction. At this time of year, one way of giving ourselves direction, is the tradition of New Year’s resolutions.
For many New Year’s resolutions bring a sense of dread, and memories of the previous experience of failing by the end of January, in activities or behaviours that we initially felt were at least within grasp. This lack of achievement can then leave us feeling more demoralised, less likely to set ourselves goals for the coming year and increase further feelings of hopelessness. It’s possibly no surprise that the feeling we are not achieving or struggling to find direction in our lives can feed into symptoms of depression and anxiety. Therefore, I like to explore some ideas and techniques we can all use to help develop successful New Year’s resolutions, which can give us a sense of achievement and new direction for 2022!
We need to understand and accept that New Years resolutions are basically the process of goal setting, whether you have specfic goals to be achieved or a change in behaviour you desire. It needs to be pointed out, at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve you will not magically develop a new set of goal setting skills. Therefore, it should no supprise that by the end of January many people’s ambitions for self improvement have gone awry. We need to understand the skill of goals setting, before we start to develp our resolutions by applying a set of simple but effective principles.
Firstly, resolutions need to be approach goals, in other words doing goals, and not avoidant goals. An avoidant goal, for example, may be to stop drinking alcohol over the month of January. Unfortunatly many activties linked to pleasure are very diffcult to stop, and leave the goal feeling like a chore or burden. And who wants a more chores or a burdens in their life? Therefore, ask yourself, if you were not drinking alcohol in January, what would be doing or more importantly what would you like to be doing instead? Then schedule in the acivities at the time when you would normllay be going to the pub.
Next, we need to think about activties we vaule. In other words, your approach goals should be working towards something you vaule. You are more likley to keep moviated if you value the goal. If your aim is to lose weight, then the value may be your health. An approach goal could be buying more fruit and salads, in turn eating more portions of health foods. In this instance, you will actively be achieving your goal every time you eat. Therefore, think about what do you actully value in your life? You are more likely to keep on track, when it’s an activity or goal linked to your vaules.
Another problem with goals setting is as the author of How to be Miserable by Randy J. Patterson highlights, that we tend to set our goals as VAPID. In other words Vague, Amorphous, Pie in the Sky, Irrelevent and Delayed. Whereas successful goal setting should be SMART or Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timebound. A specific goal, may be to walk or run your local 5km Parkrun. This can be easily be measured, and so you know when you have achieved your goal. For a goal to be actionable, one must question themsleves. For example, can I actually give the time to attend to training, I am healthly to start training, do I need to see the doctor first, do I have a pair of runing shoes or comfortable clothing, and or a place to safely train?
Then you need to consider, is this goal realistic, if not, is my first goal running 1km? Is it realistic to run on my own? Do I need help, guidance or support with this goal, like a running partner, or joining a running club and attending a beginners group? Finally, to stop procrastination, your goal needs to be timebound, set yourself a time when it will be completed by. Also set smaller time bound goals, for example, by the end of month I will run 1-2km two to three times a week. By the end of the second month I will run three to fours times a week, 2-3km and so on. You will set yourself up for failure if the goal is too far off, or there are no subgoals to follow towards end goal.
To stop goal being too far off, there is another way of achieving a SMART goals, and that is using the athletic technique of periodisation. In the book Marathon Running from Beginner to Elite, Richard Nerurker one of the UKs most successful marathon runners discusses the use of using periods of the year for specific types of training, with an end goal in mind. We can apply periodisation to our SMART goals. For example, from January to March your goal could be to dectorate or improve your home. Then from March to June you may want to set and work on goals for health and fitness. Periodisation works best with 1 to 3 month long periods focus on specific goals, as so to stops goals becoming stale and or going off track.
Nevetheless, I imagine some people reading this article may be saying I simply lack motivation to even start or may be unclear of their vaules and goals which would improve their life. If this sounds like you, then think about one task today you could do that would improve your life, just a little. Then think about one thing this week, you could do that would improve your life and make you feel a little better, even a small sense of achievement. When lacking motivation and energy, don’t tackle big projects, but start with simple and easy tasks. If you have a shed to clear out, maybe set just 15 minutes to work on clearing the shed and then stop. The next day do the same. By the end of a fornight you may have cleared your shed, and think how that will make you feel.
Nevertheless, if after reading this article the thought of applying these techniques for goals setting is leaving you feeling overwhellmed, due to symptoms of depression and or anxiety, then may be the resolution for you, is the goal of asking for help. We can accept self-referrals if you contact the service on 0300 300 1554 option 1 or if you prefer you can refer online at www.talkingtherapies.nelft.nhs.uk/redbridge. We will assess you via the telephone initially, and one of the last questions we will ask you in the assessment, is what are your goals for therapy!