How many of us have ever made it our new year’s resolution to get into shape? To put yourself out there more? To finally learn that new language? Or finally renovate your kitchen? Or finally get out of debt?
We’ve all been there. And with the turn of the new year only days away, you may find yourself there again — puzzling over what you need to change for 2022.
When carried out right, goal-setting can be a valuable practice. Trying to better ourselves is always a noble thing to do. But some things can make the process a lot harder — being too unreasonable, too rigid, too self-critical.
As we head into (gulp!) the third calendar year of touched by the pandemic, here are things to keep in mind when setting your resolutions:
Be reasonable and realistic
Don’t feel you need to take broad sweeps with your goal just because a year seems long. Going too big and may backfire. It may be more effective, and feel better, to instead cross off small wins this next year.
Psychology researchers Loran Nordgren, Frenk van Harreveld, and Joop van der Pligt conducted studies in 2009 which highlighted the concept of “restraint bias:” how people tend to overestimate their capacity for impulse control. Study participants with the inflated trust in their own impulse control ended up putting themselves in positions that exposed them to more temptation, leading to higher rates of goal-breaking.
Understanding this, we should take steps to ensure our goals stay realistic rather than overwhelming.
Rather than resolving to shed X pounds, maybe you want to commit to one extra day of cleaner eating. Rather than committing to cleaning out your entire house, maybe you want to focus on the garage or maintaining an organized workspace each day.
Who knows, you may even quickly achieve that smaller goal and then feel motivated to achieve much, much more.
Frame it positively
Once you’ve figured out the right scale of your goal, think about how you’re mentally framing it. People tend to frame their goals negatively, zeroing in on their current bad behaviors and how to cut them out. This is known as an “avoidant-oriented goal” – with framing that just makes it easier for your goals to shift into burdens, like a cloud of negative pressure dampening each day. Think: Quit spending so much money! Or Stop wasting so much time scrolling on social media! Instead, why not try “approach-oriented goals”: Let’s put aside X percent of money into savings for the future. Or Let’s make sure we get some outdoor time each day.
See the difference? A group of researchers in Sweden evaluated the resolutions of over 1,000 participants last year. After a year, more people (59%) who used the framing of an “approach goal” succeeded in keeping their goals than those with “avoidant goals” (47%).
With approach-oriented resolutions, your goals are now lifting you up rather than putting you down. Now you can wake up motivated to take your goal on head on.
Make space for gratitude
The pandemic has shifted everything – even our ambitions.
Having endured the pandemic now for 21 months has made everyone reconsider what matters most to them. For goal-setting, that might mean you are concerned less with material goals and more with goals associated with gratitude and loved ones.
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael E. McCullough conducted a study where three random groups were tasked with keeping a short weekly list: one group wrote what they were grateful for; a second group listed hassles; a last group listed neutral events. You probably could have guessed this, but the first group — the “gratitude outlook group” logged higher levels of life satisfaction, optimism about the upcoming week and feelings of connection with others.
Take a moment to think about what you valued most this year, and align your goals with that. Non-materialistic goals may not be as easily measurable, but that’s okay: Doing more for others, being more present with friends and family, listening more to yourself, or practicing the art of empathy might be the right goals for 2022.
After all this advice about making resolutions, maybe you’re realizing that you don’t need to write yourself a strict resolution at all this year. And that’s perfectly okay.
Look back on this year with gratitude, and make sure your goals reflect that. And no matter what, don’t forget to be kind to yourself in goal-setting and goal-achieving for getting through another difficult year of the pandemic.
As you set goals or set out to achieve them, you may find yourself wanting a listening ear and someone to help you get on track. At Georgetown Psychology, trained therapists are there for you – to help you on your journey to address desired changes in your behavior or emotional and mental issues.