Can New Year Resolutions Damage Your Health?



Warning: New Year Resolutions Can Damage Your Health

It’s always tempting to start the new year with a batch of resolutions – commitment to give up something undesirable or intention to do better in some way or another.  Not only does it feel a very natural project to kick off a new chapter, it also often seems perfectly placed following the trials and tribulations, indulgence and extravagance of the extended holiday period.  But more and more, researchers are sounding a warning bell about the pitfalls of the universal New Year Resolution tradition.  Some studies have suggested failure rates of up to 80%, transforming an inspirational intent into a feel-bad energy drain, triggering recrimination and impacting self-esteem.  As a coach, I know the power of effective goal-setting for establishing vision, charting direction, inspiring and motivating.  However, I also know how unspecific and unrealistic objectives, and lack of achievement, can be damaging and demoralising.  In this respect, the exhilaration and excitement of a new year can fuel the overly idealistic, followed by the January plunge into reality and rapid disheartenment.  This can be particularly acute for auditors working long hours on pressurised December sign offs, so having sounded a mental health warning and brought you plummeting back to the reality of January blues, what might be a better alternative for your wellbeing?


It's the Time of the Season for Looking Back…

This may feel counterintuitive, but playing along with the natural human inclination to take stock as the year ends, you can do a lot more for your mental health by reviewing and reflecting on the year just passed.  It’s something I do regularly, often as frequently as quarterly, but the looming calendar year end is a great time for consolidating reflections.  This is a powerful opportunity to consider your life holistically, recognising the inevitable integration and intersections of all aspects of life and work.  What follows is sample set of reflective questions covering my own ‘wheel of life’.  You may have more or less categories than this, different or similar segments, but you can customise accordingly.


Here goes:

  • General.  What are my key achievements during this period?  What am I most proud of?  Where have a made most progress?  What do I wish I had done, that I haven’t achieved this year?  (This entrée helps to generate the personal, specific categories below).
  • Professional/Career.  What can I celebrate in the year just gone?  Where did I exceed my expectations?  In what areas did I not meet my own expectations?  Where do I want the emphasis to be for the year ahead?
  • Health/Wellbeing.  How am I feeling right now (perhaps on a scale of 1-10).  What peaks and troughs can I identify from the year just gone?  With hindsight how can I repeat or protect myself from these going forward.  (Typically this picks up on health issues, and their potential preventability, plus nutrition and exercise.  Often measured by typical KPIs such as weight, cholesterol, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and mental health indices such as feeling under pressure, stressed and other mood patterns).
  • Friends and Family.  How connected have I been?  What new relationships have I been building?  Where would I like to spend more of my time, and who with, in the coming year?
  • Social and Leisure.  What are the highlights of my year in these categories.  What did I enjoy doing most?  What did I feel I missed out on?
  • Learning and Development.  Lifelong learning has become the norm in the twenty first century.  I like to take stock, reviewing what I have achieved over the year past – both formal and informal learning, whether marked by a certification or otherwise.  This then creates the propulsion for thinking about what I might want to invest in going forward.  L&D, professional and personal, really does amount to an investment – so I get thinking about the time commitment as well as the financial cost.  Again no rash decision making on 1st January, but a setting down of themes and foci.
  • Financial.  What does my year-end financial health look like? What have I invested in, and what might I invest in going forward, to support my key categories above?


From Reflections to Resolutions

You will see from the above exercise that this is a rather gentler process that the stark and hard setting of blunt resolutions (I will change job. I will lose a stone. I will join a gym and attend three times a week).  The beauty of the reflective approach is that creates an evolutionary basis for setting objectives for the year ahead – acknowledging and celebrating achievements, while drawing out areas of focus going forward.  It will help create a feel-good platform to kick off the year, vital for mental wellbeing in January, fighting stress, viruses and those heavy reporting deadlines.  During the course of the year (post January and beyond) – SMART goals can be shaken loose from this reflective bedrock and developed on a more achievable timeline over the course of the year.  Reflections deliver the turn-of-the-year feel good factor of taking account and planning forward, while nurturing and protecting us from falling foul of our good intentions in the harsh austerity of those early few weeks of the new year.

Just try it – a new approach, for a new year – you won’t be disappointed!


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