(504) 452-5937
(504) 452-5937

How to Choose New Year’s Resolutions that Stick and Improve Your Mental Health

A new year is here — you know the drill.

It’s time to commit to improving your life by exercising more, eating healthier, or any other resolution you come up with, and then giving up on it about one month later. Don’t feel bad. Abandoning New Year’s resolutions is so habitual after one month that scientists say it’s as precise as Atomic clocks. Okay, so they don’t say that, but people abandoning their resolutions after a short time is as typical as the sun rising.

The issue with New Year’s resolutions is most people commit to things that take a while to show positive results which ultimately becomes discouraging and depressing — especially in today’s instant gratification society. The key to “sticky resolutions” or resolutions that stick is concentrating on things that provide good results you will notice quickly. This kind of resolution delivers a healthy fix to your brain that it craves. So, by first focusing on resolutions that improve your mental health you feed your brain positive reinforcement, which ultimately makes you feel better overall and opens a gateway for committing to and achieving more in life.

New Year's resolutions usually don't stick and for good reason. By first focusing on resolutions that improve your mental health you feed your brain positive reinforcement, which ultimately makes you feel better overall and opens a gateway for committing to and achieving more in life.
New Year’s resolutions usually don’t stick and for good reason. By first focusing on resolutions that improve your mental health you feed your brain positive reinforcement, which ultimately makes you feel better overall and opens a gateway for committing to and achieving more in life. Photo by Margarida Afonso on Unsplash.

Each year many people take on a New Year’s resolution even though most don’t keep it up all year long. So, why do we keep doing this?

That moment in time when we transition from the end of one point and the start of the next period of time normally draws us to pause and evaluate our successes and struggles. The start of each new year symbolizes a new beginning or an opportunity to have a clean slate. Therefore, the symbolic stroke of midnight means a chance to start over and improve ourselves. We feel motivated to realign our values with our behaviors resulting in a sense of encouragement and hope.

What are resolutions we can make this year to improve our mental health?

A 2019 survey result highlighted the difficulty Americans had with maintaining a change in behavior for longer than 6-12 months. This was especially true when the resolution focused on eating healthier or making a dietary change. The most positive outcome of this pre-pandemic study noted that even those resolutions focused on personal development (for 26.5% of respondents) ended with results that still did not last into the next year.

Despite that 2019 study, traditional resolutions continue to address sleep, eating, and exercise, and with good reason. Sleeping 7-8 hours per night lowers the risks of depression, mood swings, irritability, and poor concentration. Medical professionals consistently support a healthy, balanced diet of more vegetables and fruit, simple proteins, and fewer starches and sugary foods. Daily physical activity and/or time outdoors being active increases our energy levels, improves sleep and provides necessary nutrients provided by the sun (when in moderation).

Since the pandemic, 2021 polls show resolutions trending toward more intrinsic or internal goals. The pandemic has motivated us to get more quality out of our decisions about self-improvement.

New Year’s resolutions that support mental health and wellbeing

  1. Decrease social media scrolling to increase your chances of feeling happier and more satisfied with your life.
  2. Create and display your motivation board to attain a sense of self-control and encouragement so you are more likely to meet those long-term goals and dreams for retirement.
  3. Add a hobby or learn a new fun skill to boost your wellbeing by being more socially interactive; or
  4. Write an affirmation or gratitude thought each day to improve your personal outlook on your life and your view of yourself.
  5. Mindfulness activities are the “go-to” choice as scientific research repeatedly affirms and continues to identify multiple benefits for its new and seasoned practitioners. Improved wellbeing from mindfulness practices can include:
    • Giving you a tool to address predictable and unexpected life stresses,
    • Teaching acceptance,
    • Promoting the mental ability to move forward (also known as “letting go”),
    • Teaching patience by being more comfortable with slowing down and living in present,
    • Support for having an improved connection to a positive perspective about what you can accomplish (as opposed to what you do not want),
    • Improving awareness and concentration (thus supporting other life changes),
    • Improving sleep,
    • Reducing stress, and
    • Improving relationships and communication.

How do we know which ones we should do?

Just because a New Year’s resolution is popular does not mean it’s the best one for you. There are factors to consider when determining your unique needs. Deciding on a personal improvement goal is just that – personal. So, consider these questions when identifying your need to implement a change.

  • What is your genetic makeup? Physical health and mental health are interrelated. For example, when we are experiencing illness or participating in an extended medical treatment, our emotional exhaustion may lessen our ability to incorporate a change. For the same reason, people who are depressed struggle with motivation, while people who insist on structure and orderliness may find it difficult to incorporate a change.
  • What cultural aspects influence you most? We are connected to various cultural backgrounds, such as financial, racial, spiritual, and geographical. The resources we have access to are influenced by where we live – metropolitan area, large city, small town, or rural. Implementing self-improvement for mental health will be less likely to help if it also adds to your current distress. Maybe, you need to consider removing a volunteer commitment that has a less positive meaning.
  • What are your physical needs? The physical body’s needs are related to the energy we put out as well as the nutrition we take in each day. A postal delivery worker’s exercise/outdoor time resolution will look much different than an accountant, for example.
  • How might this resolution impact your financial position? The pandemic has impacted us in drastically diverse ways. Considering what your budget looks like, what your needs are, and how much your resolution may cost you will make a stark difference. The intention of a New Year’s resolution is to improve your life, not to stress it more. So, if you want to add a mindfulness practice, a little free online research is a good place to start. Meditation is a simple act that has low expectations initially. Our minds are designed to consistently process stimuli (think), so quieting it is not the goal.
  • Focusing on breathing is the initial goal. Try sitting in a quiet space, focusing on your breath, and listening to a YouTube video of Tibetan bells.
  • What are the specifics about your current as well as your preferred lifestyle that impact this resolution? A change of behavior is a decision we come to because something has motivated us. An interesting outcome of the pandemic has presented itself to each of us. Has this time highlighted for you how much you need to be with friends or how difficult or easier it has been to work from home or maybe just how much you appreciate your children’s schoolteachers? Identify your preferred living and what is the first step towards that desire. For example, if you found out family communication was not as strong as you once thought it was, join the current trend by seeking out relationship therapy or call your insurance provider for guidance. Get Immediate Help.
Finding "sticky resolutions" or resolutions that last can seem puzzling without first taking a step back. The pandemic has allowed people to refocus on their lives and align with New Year's resolutions that truly support mental health and wellbeing. Once that happens, everything else tends to fall into place.
Finding “sticky resolutions” or resolutions that last can seem puzzling without first taking a step back. The pandemic has allowed people to refocus on their lives and align with New Year’s resolutions that truly support mental health and wellbeing. Once that happens, everything else tends to fall into place. Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash.

Consider taking an online survey to assist you with identifying your unique needs. Plenty Consulting offers a 15-item questionnaire in which you decide how much each item impacts you. The results will be sent to your email and will offer you general areas of wellbeing to consider working on. The email with the results will also offer you an opportunity to unsubscribe. Take the Lumeria Wellbeing Assessment.

What can I do to make sure I keep doing my New Year’s resolution, especially when I just get tired of the work it takes?

Emotional exhaustion from a new behavior is normal. When we experience change as stressful the solution is to give up, which may result in a sense of disappointment in ourselves. So, be kind to yourself by

  1. Determining your pace. Just because it is the start of a new year, or it is Monday does not mean you have to start that day. Personal readiness is important to consider.
  2. Setting flexible goals may be a better plan for you. For example, do you plan to lose ten pounds or fit into my favorite jeans, again? Which is more reachable for you?
  3. And remember, a New Year’s resolution s is not your identity. It is a behavior we add or remove to support wellbeing.

We may need flexible goals, as discussed above, or we may need specific goals. Mnemonics are helpful in providing structure and maintaining change across the year. The mnemonic SMART can guide your decision-making.

Specific – identify a behavior (mediate, sleep, eat more vegetables)
Measurable – identify how many more/less (times per day, length of time, how much)
Achievable – identify how much is within reach (10 minutes, 7 hours, one serving/once per day)
Realistic – identify what makes sense in your life so no comparing to the yoga instructor
Time Framed – identify when it would be a “good fit” and when it would add more distress

There are other general considerations in your decision-making to support success without compromising your mental health.

  1. Who is in your social network? This is where we receive support, accountability, and can get a mental health check-in.
  2. What do I need from physical activity if that is a part of my unique needs? Physical activity – exercise or outdoor fun – can provide a lift in your mood, improve your sleep, and increase your resiliency.
  3. Would a new skill or hobby be better? Learning and engaging in new activities provides time off of worries/concerns and strengthens our memory.
  4. How could you exchange screen time for social time? This mental health trick builds our emotional regulation and resiliency.
  5. Is it time for you to consider professional support? Mental health is commonly used for recharge and check-ins, too, not just when there is a problem.

Low motivation is normal as well. So, prepare for “Blue Monday” with these simple self-care tips.

  1. take a moment to just breath
  2. pause for a minute before starting your day
  3. take a moment of quiet time before sleep
  4. take an opportunity to do a random act of kindness
  5. walk with a neighbor
  6. only eat what you need to eat
  7. be considerate of you and the other person
  8. say ‘thanks’
  9. lessen sweets and starchy foods
No matter where you find yourself in life, you always hold the spark to create better circumstances. By choosing a New Year’s resolution that first focuses on your mental health and wellbeing you light that spark and begin lifting yourself to higher ground. Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash.

Are there trendy New Year’s resolutions people are doing?

It seems as though the pandemic is also motivating Americans to engage in a more therapeutic lifestyle. Yes, this means working with a mental health therapist. And it can also include alternative behaviors for those needing to “step into” a therapeutic experience. A few simple suggestions include:

  1. Put a diffuser in your home with essential oils,
  2. Adjust your home with lighting effects,
  3. Cuddle in a weighted blanket,
  4. Schedule a message, or
  5. Get into t’ai chi.

What else should you know about New Year’s Resolutions and Mental Health?

Watch family and marriage therapist Susan Harrington, founder of Maison Vie New Orleans, discusses ways to find New Year resolutions that improve your mental health and stick throughout the year. You can also contact Maison Vie to see how Susan can help guide you through counseling sessions or request an appointment now.