2020 is here, and it’s that time of year when we traditionally look to the future and set ourselves resolutions in the hope of living a happier, more fulfilled life. This is a tradition which dates back to the people of ancient Babylonia, who at the start of each year made promises to their Gods that they would pay their debts and return borrowed items.
In my work as a therapist I help people to set and work towards resolutions – or goals – all year round, as this is a proven strategy for overcoming depression. Depression often arises due to negative life events which can lower our mood and change our behaviour. This leaves us feeling stuck because we aren’t living the life we want to live. Therefore it is possible to overcome depression by setting realistic goals which are in line with our life values and working towards these. People often find that their mood improves just by having this sense of moving forwards. In other words, it’s not about attainting the goal, it’s about the journey towards it.
Setting goals is the easy part but as most of you will know the sticking to them can be challenging, especially if you are struggling with depression or anxiety. According to a study, 60% of us set New Year resolutions but only 8% are successful in achieving them. When we don’t reach our goals this can leave us feeling deflated and frustrated.
So, if you want to improve your mood by setting yourself some goals for the New Year, maximise the chances of sticking to them by following these tips:
Start by taking some time to consider what is important to you. Why do you want to make this change? What would it mean to you? What might the benefits of doing this be? Make sure that this goal is something you want and not something you feel under pressure from others to do.
When considering what is important to you it may help to do a ‘values assessment’ – you can download one for free.
Specific – be really clear about what you want to achieve. For example the goal of ‘getting fit’ is too vague. Instead, say ‘I want to exercise for 30 minutes three times per week’.
Measurable – how will you know if you have achieved your goal? Consider keeping a log of each time you go to the gym, or use an app to measure the amount of alcoholic units you drink.
Achievable – Don’t set your sights too high! Consider breaking your goal down into smaller sections. For example, if you’ve never run before then start off with ‘Couch to 5K’ rather than the next London Marathon.
Realistic and resourced – consider if your goal is realistic for you. Do you have the time, resources and support of others to really make this happen?
Time limited – set a reasonable time limit to work towards and keep reviewing your progress e.g. I’ll have done this in one week or one month or one year.
Consider if there may be any problems along the way, and what could you do to overcome or prevent these problems. If you’ve tried to reach this goal before and not quite got there, think whether there’s anything you could learn from past attempts to help you this time around.
Use prompts to remind you to work towards your goal. This might be in the form of an alert on your mobile phone, a note in your diary, post it notes on the fridge or a gentle nudge from a friend.
Be kind to yourself – if you stumble along the journey don’t beat yourself up or become frustrated. Accept that you are human, pick yourself up and carry on towards your goal.