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Managing goals and expectations in the New Year

By: Shauna Gavin

Updated: 15 January 2020

New year, new me, the yearly mantra of those aspiring to overhaul their entire lives as quickly as possible and emerge from their Christmas cocoon as a beautiful, gym going, healthy eating butterfly. Are you tired of listening to the same notions that no one ends up sticking to, year in year out? We’ve all heard of new year’s resolutions but some people seem to think that at the strike of midnight on the 31st of December, a magic wand is waved and they will become a completely different person, Cinderella style. Well unfortunately, Cinderella was a fairytale and this level of pressure and expectation we put on ourselves can be very hurtful and damaging in the cases where it doesn’t go to plan. 

Focusing on the end result is often key to resolutions and this is problematic as we cannot achieve anything without a journey and seeing the journey as anything other than the reason to do something sets us up for failure.  Every day that we engage in our journey is a day where we need to hold love and respect for ourselves at the core of what we do. These days are the point of any resolution, whether the end result is what we thought it might be, or not.  


The usual New Year's resolutions tend to be things along the lines of exercising more, losing weight, quitting smoking and just being better, healthier and more well organised in general. Many of those who find themselves suffering from the January Blues (or simply put, mild to more severe depression) will end up breaking these resolutions and it can be very disheartening to a person who gave themselves so much to achieve. Once the resolution is broken once it gives a person license to break it again, making them feel even worse about themselves. Going into the new year, we need to remind ourselves that change is never something that happens overnight and our resolutions and goals should reflect this. Giving yourself unrealistic goals that set you up for failure will only damage your confidence and ego and make you less likely to want to better yourself in the future.  If you find that you often do this, perhaps it is worth taking a look at what you gain from repeatedly setting yourself up for failure. Does this speak to a voice within yourself that believes so little of yourself? Are you allowing yourself to fail in order to give legitimacy to feelings of sadness, pain or hurt? Is this the way that you can feel valid anger at yourself? If any of these questions are provoking a response in you, then it is worth exploring this concept further. This may be something that you need a little therapeutic help with.


From the point of view of your resolutions, setting yourself more attainable, shorter term goals that work towards a bigger ambition is a much better idea than giving yourself the whole mountain to climb straight away. For things such as giving up smoking, you will either have to mentally prepare yourself in the weeks leading up to your resolution beginning or cut down in stages. For a lot of people, cold turkey simply does not work. A person who wanted to climb Mount Everest would probably not live to tell the tale if they hiked it on their first ever try so why would you adopt this attitude with any other goal?


From a therapeutic point of view, if you want to make a change, the first vital question to ask yourself if why?  Why do I want to do this? If it’s pressure from society or from people around us, then the reality is that this will not fuel your self esteem in any meaningful way as it is a goal that is focused on gaining external validation for a personal choice.  External validation is a tricky concept. Getting our feelings of self worth from the feedback of others is natural and common. However, ultimately, this validation will never be as consistent or heartfelt as we need it to be. So while external validation might feel easy and fill us with pride, we cannot use it to measure our worth and will not appease the difficult parts of ourselves that sought it in the first place.  


This is not to say we should go easy on ourselves and not try at all. When climbing our own personal Everests, starting off with Croke Patrick is a very good start by any standards. It is also important to be aware of why our goals are important to us. For example, if your goals are mainly centred around your appearance, losing huge amounts of weight (especially if you are not overweight to begin with) may not be something that you may feel societal pressure to do and not necessarily something that would benefit you. Rather than making your goal to get that unrealistic Instagram body to look like someone you follow, aim to live and eat more healthily to benefit your physical and mental health first and foremost. Make your to focus on doing something that you will genuinely benefit from and not just something that you think is good for you.  Further, ask yourself what someone who loves you completely would want for you right now. Then be that person. Love yourself completely and make choices for yourself from a place of self love, self regard and self esteem. These choices will hold much greater resonance for you than a multitude of compliments about weight loss.  


Either way, just because the planet has made yet another successful cycle around the sun that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a completely different person than you were the day before. We need to be understanding of ourselves and know that personal change is not as sudden as the strike of midnight between 2019 to 2020.

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