Sarah reflects on the conflicting nature of New Year’s Resolutions, and shares her outlook on setting positive, constructive goals.

– Sarah Gough

Now that February is upon us, the eagerness and optimism that arose from the New Year may be fading. It’s hard not to get caught up in the idea of reinventing yourself with the ‘New Year, New Me’ mindset that is prevalent every year. Yet as much as I believe in the importance of self-growth, I think there’s a reason why so many of us are faced with disappointment when we inevitably fall back into old habits.

In a way, the reason is simple: changing your behaviour is hard. But I think there’s something about the advent of a new year that brings even more pressure. Faced with the prospect of an entire year, we often think of big changes that we want to achieve in that time. Although it’s great to dream big, sometimes this can set us up for failure. Trying to do too much all at once is overwhelming, and after a few days, weeks, or even months, we run out of steam.

It’s hard enough to commit to New Year’s Resolutions, without the added challenges that come with returning to university after the winter break. With a busy schedule and added social and academic pressures, it’s not surprising that overly ambitious goals fall by the wayside – not to mention the extra weight that comes with battling mental health difficulties.

It may be much easier said than done, but self-compassion in the face of perceived failure is so important. (Isn’t it ironic that in the times we need to love ourselves the most, this is the hardest thing to do?). Be gentle with yourself. Here’s a reminder: growth doesn’t happen overnight. You need to give yourself time and space. Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small they may appear to others. Ask for support if you need it.

There’s no need to give up if you feel like you’ve already missed out on setting goals this year. Whether you haven’t been able to keep up with all the changes that you hoped to, or whether you’re like me and shy away from setting New Year’s Resolutions in fear of not being able to meet them, it’s never too late. We can make our own new beginnings. Although it might be nice to measure growth from a universal time point, you don’t need to wait for a new year to roll around to start incorporating some positive changes into your life. We inevitably experience setbacks, but I find it empowering to reframe these as opportunities to start again.

The type of goals that we set is also significant. Thinking of the bigger picture without knowing how to get there, or committing to doing something for a whole year can feel overwhelming. Instead, break a resolution down into small, manageable steps that you can add to your daily routine. I find it helpful to choose one or two small actions, and gradually build onto them over time, rather than trying to transform my life all at once. Focusing on the short-term also keeps me motivated, as it’s easy to get disheartened when trying to achieve something that doesn’t have an immediate effect.

This year, instead of thinking of vast yearly goals, I’m trying to give myself a goal for each week or month. I’m a big believer in the power of adopting small changes. These are easier to maintain and accumulate over time to make surprisingly big differences. So don’t worry if your goals aren’t as grandiose as others’ – everyone has a different mental capacity, and you should be proud of yourself for every step you take.

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at
university or supporting a friend, help is available.

Hi, I’m Sarah, a second-year German and Psychology student at the University of St Andrews. Alongside my studies, I volunteer as a peer supporter at my university and as a Sub-Editor for the Student Minds Blog.

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