New year new me?
At the start of a new year, it would be fair to say that many of us have likely indulged in, for example food, alcohol, sleep (or lack of), present buying and/or binge-watching drama series. On the other hand, Christmas and new year can be a lonely time with feelings of isolation/loneliness inflated through missing those loved ones who are no longer with us. On top of this, the last week in December - combined with the first few days in January – can feel like a post festival lull especially with the dark and wet winter days firmly upon us. With confusion setting in (I often have to ask myself “what day is it?”), on top of the fact that many of our routines have gone ‘out the window’ - including the gym, healthy eating, meditation, November ‘detox’ and early morning autumn runs, not to mention the 4 pounds (on average) we all tend to put on over the festive period and, finally, throw in some emotional burnout for good measures - surely, then, the mantra “new year, new me” is a good thing?
The words ‘new year new me’ could be just that: words. Or it could represent a real possibility for change or improvement. It all depends how one approaches it.
There is indeed a tradition about new year’s resolutions. Some people are not at all keen on this, but others find that starting a new year is a good time to get motivated to change or improve their life.
This article explores the “new year new me” mindset i.e., new year’s resolutions, how these impact wellbeing as well as ways in which counsellors, like myself, can support sustained change with a realistic approach.
A client I worked with, who we will call Rob (not his real name), will be explored within the article as a way to “bring it to life”. Rob, who identifies as gay, male, and 28 years old, experienced loneliness due to a lack of (LGBT+) social connections. He reached out to counselling with a set of new year’s resolutions as a way to explore and implement changes in his life.
New Year’s Day resolutions
I have seen how many new year resolutions were unsuccessful after a week or so. The research seems to back up this thinking: according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology only 16% of people who make new year’s resolutions are successful (Manou, 2020). I therefore congratulate clients who come to therapy in January to get support in implementing their resolutions in a sustained and realistic way.
The benefits of new year’s resolutions and the “new year new me” perspective are undoubtedly advocated in articles that make sense in popular discourse: for example, new year’s resolutions can help people reinvent personal and/or professional goals and, thus, support healthy personal and/or professional change (Gladwell, 2018). This could include, for example leaving a job which makes a client feel unhappy or taking up a hobby or joining a gym to help increase fitness and social interactions. In another article reflecting on the post pandemic situation, Shand-Baptise (2021) recognises themes in new year’s resolutions that include a more active approach to:
- health and fitness
- improved finances
- learning new things for personal and professional development.
As a counsellor, then, there are many ways in which I can support the client.
Step 1 - prepare for change
A ‘new me’ does not necessarily mean that what I want to achieve is new. It could be that I explore things I am good at and want to improve, or I may want to reflect on the past in order to define better what changes or improvements I could make. Change does not happen overnight; it is more of a “slow and steady wins the race” process. This involves lots of thoughts around how change can be implemented and, importantly, maintained. I have seen how many clients tend to underestimate how challenging the process can be without the right support in place which could include family, self-care, pre-planning and/or avoiding triggers/places/extra work. Rob faced several challenges in finding out what LGBT social events were available in his local area, he often expressed frustration around events not being visible on social media and, thus, having to depend on word of mouth. However, once we acknowledged this initial barrier and, thus, figured out who should be contacted for further information, the process became much easier.
Step 2 - Set goals that really motivate you
Unsurprisingly, the research recognises that many clients set goals to please others whether it be a partner or manager and, thus, ultimately, this can lead to limited, if any, long term change (Baluyut, 2021). If clients are not fully invested, the process of change becomes much harder!
This means that, through a conversation between the counsellor and client, it is important to determine (and set) goals/resolutions that are important to the client. Thus, your resolutions should align with your goals, priorities, dreams, aspirations.
It is important to document goals as often as possible. Writing down resolutions helps clients clarify what they want to achieve and also reminds them of how far they have come and what they have achieved. I have supported clients in writing things down in a journal and drafting an email to themselves.
Limit resolutions to a manageable amount
A very common mistake is to set too many resolutions and, thus, spread the new year new me self too thinly. This means that success is unlikely. I have supported clients in managing resolutions by writing a list and putting a number between 1 to 10 next to them: 1 being not important, 5 being somewhat important, 10 being very important. This may help them figure out which ones are more important and, thus, make the list smaller and, importantly, more manageable. In addition, this also helps with clarity so the client can focus in on, and figure out, how much attention they can devote to a resolution. It is much better to tackle 1 resolution well than 5 not so well.
Rob started by writing down 3 broad goals:
- To develop the friendships I have
- To reach out to family in my area
- To access LGBT support/social groups
Setting realistic goals through SMART!
Being specific when setting goals is very important as this will help clients see what needs to be done and, thus, whether this is a realistic and achievable goal. Therefore SMART goals could be used as a way to support clients in managing resolutions. To make sure your goals are clear and reachable, each one should be:
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
- Achievable (agreed, attainable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
- Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)
Once Rob had an idea of the areas he wanted to explore, we developed his goals to fit with SMART.
Goal 1 became: to contact Julie on Tuesday to arrange for a coffee at our local café on a Friday morning.
Goal 2 became: to call mum on Thursday evening (which was previously agreed) for a catch up (keep an hour free)
Goal 3 became: to attend on a weekly basis one LGBT social meet up through MIND OUT (Bristol) at the weekend (running/coffee at café/walking club/badminton). These events need prebooking so Rob would book them in at the start of every month for 4 weeks ahead.
The above SMART goals, then, helped Rob to manage his intentions and, thus, the broader goals previously discussed. Therapy offered Rob a safe and supportive place to explore how his SMART goals were going, whether he had experienced any success or challenges and, thus, what can be done to improve and strengthen the process for him.
Lots of clients initially set big goals and, thus, it can be useful to break up big goals into smaller goals and write these down. That way, you can see these every day, be reminded of the benefits and keep your motivation. Smaller goals also feel more manageable. In the past, I have worked with clients to:
- List all sub-tasks
- Order the sub-tasks from most to least important
- Use visual maps to show change as it happens
- Assign milestones to each task
- Add time frames to each task – although make sure you are being realistic
- Focus on the next step, not the big goal
Lots more reading on SMART goals can be found at: see https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm
Review, review, review!
Regular reviewing is important in counselling. If clients are not thinking about their new year new me goals/resolutions, they are unlikely to be hitting targets and/or making positive changes.
Rob found that checking in by asking the following questions useful:
- Am I on ‘target’? If not, why? If so, how does this feel? I would also reflect on the progress that has been made. Let’s look at what has been achieved so far and let’s acknowledge progress.
- Are these resolutions still as important to me? If not, what has changed?
- What are the hurdles I have faced and how have I overcome these?
- Would I also know how to overcome the same hurdles should I face these again?
Do you want to add in anything or take something away? If so why/how? I would then also refer back to SMART to ensure any additions/changes did not impact on success.
If you fall off track, we will support you get back on…quick!
Finally, and importantly, learning to get back on track after a ‘failure’ is important in addition to offering self-compassion as long term change is hard. There should always be some room for mistakes and setbacks - perfectionism will only set clients up for a fail as setbacks are likely to happen. However as long as setbacks are handled correctly, with compassion and understanding, big goals will not be impacted on. If anything, lots of learning can occur in these setbacks. The key, then, is to avoid a defeatist attitude at all costs.
Thinking back to Rob, and his search for more connections with his family/friends/LGBT community, it would be fair to say that, unsurprisingly, there were a few hurdles, initially, when attending the LGBT social groups. For example Rob explored in session how his anxiety got the better of him meaning he missed his first running group session. It was important, then, to figure out what was causing this anxiety and how this can be overcome. One such solution was to contact the group leader and have an informal chat with him over coffee (which he was happy to do) to explore the group a bit more, what they do and how they meet and support each other. This coffee was a great source of information exchange and, as such, really helped to put Rob at ease. He felt ready to attend his next running session and, consequently, has been going ever since. On top of this, his LGBTQ friendship group has really expended, he now feels much more connected to his community through the social connections he has developed within the group.
In conclusion, the Christmas and new year period can be fun but also challenging as routine goes out the window and we all tend to indulge one way or another. The new year new me perspective, through the tradition of setting of goals has been proven useful in that it can reignite clients search for positive change in personal and professional lives and, thus, can help them implement changes. However it is important to be realistic with the goals or resolutions being set. In addition, showing self-compassion along the way is much needed with the odd slip up likely. With the support of the counsellor, the process can be continued in a meaningful and positive way. The counsellor will help clients avoid a defeatist attitude and get back on track as soon as possible. This can be done by learning from past experiences and, thus, reviewing situations to ensure successful change through the “new year new me” mindset.
Finally, starting this process is not exclusive to ‘new year’, you can use another significant date, such as a birthday, to do that. It is psychologically helpful to set yourself a start date.
If you want to contact Andi, please email email@example.com
Baluyut, J. (2021). New year, new me? Navigating the resolutions paradigm. Cited on: https://thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/30/12/2021/new-year-new-me-navigating-the-resolutions-paradigm - accessed 20 12 22
Gladwell, H. (2018). Let’s stop it with the ‘new year, new me’ thing: Bettering yourself should have no time limit. Cited on: https://metro.co.uk/2018/01/01/lets-stop-it-with-the-new-year-new-me-thing-bettering-yourself-should-have-no-time-limit-7162602/ - accessed 17 12 22
Manou, U. (2020). The psychology behind the 'New year, new me' mindset, explained. Cited on: https://wsbt.com/news/local/the-psychology-behind-the-new-year-new-me-mindset-explained - accessed 20 12 22
Shand-Baptise, K. (2021). The concept of ‘New Year, New Me’ sounded ridiculous before the pandemic. Now it’s all I want. Cited on: https://inews.co.uk/opinion/the-concept-of-new-year-new-me-sounded-ridiculous-before-the-pandemic-now-its-all-i-want-1364214 - accessed 29 12 22