Making New Year’s Resolutions That Actually Stick

by Stephanie Dodaro

new years resolutionWe have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. After the excesses of the holiday season, many of us feel compelled to eat healthier, exercise, and seek out various other ways to improve our lives. The act of making resolutions helps you feel in immediate control of your destiny, giving you confidence and energy. However, many people find it notoriously difficult to stick with resolutions, especially those suffering from depression. There are steps we can all take to change the way we approach resolutions, and make the process of self-improvement realistic and sustainable.

First, take stock of how you’re feeling. If you’re experiencing a depressive episode, it can be difficult to plan resolutions and follow through on them. One of depression’s most debilitating traits is constant negative self-talk, which can be incredibly discouraging and warp your self-perception. Other common symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety further worsen your mood, leaving you pessimistic, defensive, and overly sensitive. Any perceived failure, such as slipping up on a resolution, can make your self-reproach spiral out of control.

If you’ve had symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, be sure to visit your health care provider for an assessment. It can take a good deal of time and effort to find the right treatments, so allow yourself to make it a priority.

When you’re ready to make resolutions, it can be helpful to first take stock of the past year.

  • List your accomplishments and challenges. You might be surprised at how much you actually achieved. You can also practice learning from difficult experiences: determining what people or situations to avoid and what behaviors you can improve.
  • List things for which you’re grateful. Nothing is too small: hugs from your niece, a cashier’s smile. In fact, recognizing seemingly ordinary things as helpful or joyous can help you feel fulfilled throughout the day and open your mind to new possibilities.

By closely examining your past year, you’ll have a better sense of what resolutions might be most helpful.

It’s also helpful to connect resolutions to the bigger picture. For example, you’ll be more motivated to stick with a savings plan if it’s connected to the greater goal of helping you retire by a certain age.

As you’re creating your plan, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Make small, concrete resolutions: You’ll have the best chance of overcoming resistance and achieving success if you take small steps. If you want to get in shape, jogging 15 minutes a day for two weeks is a far more concrete and attainable goal than planning to run a half marathon in three months. You’ll build confidence and quickly move up to bigger goals.
  • Team up: Partner with a friend to help keep each other encouraged and accountable. Friends can offer an objective perspective and new ideas about how to tackle obstacles that arise during the process.
  • Reframe slip-ups: It’s said that it takes at least three weeks, or seven lapses, to make a habit. If you slip up, try not to beat yourself up. Instead, think of lapses as a normal part of the learning process.
  • Post your resolutions: When you’re forming a new habit, it helps to be visually reminded to complete the task. Write out your resolutions and post them where you can see them.
  • Reward yourself: To help keep up your motivation, build in little rewards for milestones along the way.
  • Be flexible: If a resolution just seems too hard to achieve, consider scaling back or rethinking it altogether. Resolutions are simply our best guesses as to what will help us improve. Sometimes we learn that a resolution isn’t the best way to reach a certain goal, or the goal isn’t one we actually want to accomplish. Look at resolutions as ways to test your goals, and as stepping stones to an improved life.

Even if you’re being treated for depression and major symptoms are eased, negative thought patterns can persist. Practice recognizing when your thoughts seem overly pessimistic and take a step back. If they seem to be impeding your progress, contact your health care provider to adjust your treatment plan.

Whether you feel far from achieving your goals or are living your dreams, realistic resolutions can help you get or stay on track, in the new year and beyond.