New Year, New Me?

To start off 2017 and the new semester, Rachel Griffiths explores the extraordinary pressure to reinvent oneself in the new year and the unhealthy ways people go about it. She reminds and reassures us that, while drastic changes seem to be most peoples' goals, it is far greater for our health if we stick to achievable goals and approach them in steps, rather than to attempt to change our nature over night. 

We have had a good month now to test out our New Year’s resolutions. These are our goals to better ourselves, giving up “bad” habits and introducing “good” ones… you know the drill. Although, apparently, 80% of resolutions set are scrapped by February.* There are so many resolutions we set ourselves year after year... whether we are trying to lose weight, get fitter, quit smoking, stop drinking alcohol, cut out caffeine, manage our time better, keep to a budget... the list goes on and on.

I do not mean to discourage you. If you are aiming for such goals, then good for you! Where I have the problem is not with the setting of these goals, nor am I implying that it is useless to try to improve our well being, it is simply that these goals can put a lot of pressure on us to achieve a particular ideal.

For most, a certain amount of pressure is good, and sometimes vital, to help maintain discipline and motivation. Yet we so often charge into the new year or new semester with a gung-ho attitude, or the genuine feeling that we CAN and WILL manage to attain what we have tried to do so many times before. This mindset can quickly dissipate into feelings of guilt, shame and failure when we do not reach the high standards that we have set for ourselves. It is easy to despair at and resent our lack of self-control and beat ourselves up for not miraculously changing our habits with the arrival of January 1st.

Alongside the crushing weight of advertising and friends’ or colleagues’ achievements in the New Year, there are many reasons to be caught up in the charisma of this tradition, but ultimately this leads us to an even greater sense of failure later on in the year when these resolutions are not followed through. If you have spent money on that gym membership or you see your friend getting that promotion when you are stuck in your old habits, old job, the feeling of defeat can become even more overwhelming.

This is all completely understandable, but how do we get out of this pit? Realistically, we have to be gentle with ourselves, accept our flaws and weaknesses and better ourselves in small steps when we are strong enough to, rather than attempting to completely change our nature overnight. Diluting our set tasks into smaller, simpler ones seems to be the key to actually achieving them - ones that we can start and find small rewards in from day one. I know this is a frustratingly simple response as, in this day and age especially, we want to see big results in as little time as possible, but we all know quick solutions are rarely long lasting. Adding one gym session a week is bound to be more manageable than adding three to your normal routine. Not buying coffees is easier than promising yourself not to buy any drinks out and to cook all of your meals at home. Ultimately it is much more simple to build on your goals throughout the year than to set your standards too high and feel defeated after the first month. It is only February; you have got plenty of time before 2018!

You are bound to get a greater feeling of success and a boost in self-esteem if you are making steps towards your goal than if you are standing still, even if they are not the great leaps you were hoping for. Transitions take time and small steps make a big difference once they are added up. Be kind to yourself and understand that self-discipline is a process that is more valuable than getting that new job or internship. Being open to change and embracing new opportunities that you truly want to do, or even going about achieving your goals in new ways that may not be what you originally planned, may give yourself a much more rewarding and fulfilling result than you would have thought.

So, try your best to release yourself from the pressure you are putting on yourself (or feeling from others) and accept that small changes towards realistic goals are much more beneficial in the long run than charging at full-steam and feeling defeated when things do not go your way. You can always learn and improve yourself by simply listening to the changes you really want to make in life, rather than seeking the ones expected of you. Let the New Year bring you a feeling of release and peace that you are doing what you can, and that that is enough. Forcing yourself into change can leave you feeling like a failure, but self-acceptance, and understanding that you do not need to prove anything, goes a long way. Focusing on what you have achieved, rather than what you have not, is much more worthwhile. So please, be gentle with yourself.