As we settle into 2022, most of us are thrilled to see the back of what was yet another incredibly challenging year. And while none of us could’ve foreseen the madness that both 2020 and 2021 turned out to be, many of us are looking to 2022 as the year we claw back some semblance of normality in our lives – starting with a set of New Year’s resolutions.
Despite the best of intentions, it may have been pretty standard in the past for most people to abandon their resolutions within weeks of making them. But after having little or no chance to plan for the future in recent months, there’s no better time than now to make resolutions that we actually want to keep – ones that change our lives for the better. From ditching bad habits to regaining the mojo you may have lost over the course of this pandemic, experts agree that the key to making lasting resolutions is to first be (brutally) honest with yourself on numerous levels.
“Good intentions are not enough to change behaviour. We must become more conscious – only then can we have change that is long-lasting,” explains Dr. Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and founder of The LightHouse Arabia. “We are culturally expected to make New Year’s resolutions, and I think it’s natural that with any new beginning, you have the intention to want to do and be different. However, we don’t realise that some of the habits we’re trying to change are deeply rooted behavioural systems. So, if we make superficial goals without addressing the underlying causes of those behaviours, we end up right back where we started – this time with less hope and more discouragement.” With this in mind, Dr. Afridi says that the first step in changing any kind of behaviour is becoming aware of how it is helping you to manage difficult emotions.
“When it comes down to it, all negative behaviours are anxiety management systems and, you we can identify the purpose of your behaviour, you can replace it with something that is more consistent with your values,” she says. “For example, a person may eat to avoid difficult emotions. One way to identify the hidden agenda of the behaviour you’re trying to tackle is to ask yourself: what would happen if I stopped the behaviour that gets in the way of achieving the goals I’ve set for myself? By getting rid of the food, the person is being asked to face difficult feelings without any ‘armour’. So in order to succeed in making lasting change, it’s important to find something that will not only help them cope with the situation, but is also consistent with their values. Perhaps the person truly values their health, so instead of eating, they could go for a walk when they are feeling anxious. Or if they value friendship, they could call a friend when they are going through something they find difficult to deal with on their own.”
Making a point of thinking about what you really want to change and filing your resolution list with easy, good-for-you goals is also more important than attempting to entirely transform your existence. “If you’re making resolutions for the upcoming year, be realistic and start small. Don’t commit to massive changes that can be tough to follow through on – do it step by step,” advises Aakanksha Tangri, founder of Re:Set. “So if you want to quit sugar, don’t give it all up at once. You’ll be setting yourself up to fail, which can backfire and demotivate you from sticking to your resolutions. You’ll be better off making a weekly and monthly goal that will allow you to follow through on slowly weaning yourself off sugar.”
And there’s much to be said for partnering with a friend who has a similar resolution in mind. “I’d really recommend finding a buddy for your new year resolutions; you both can hold each other accountable and motivate each other through the journey,” adds Aakanksha. “Most importantly, be mindful of how you speak to yourself and the messages you’re giving to your brain while you take on a resolution. It’s important to remember that getting through these tumultuous two years has been a task in itself, so be kind to yourself and remember that it’s difficult to let go of an old habit or adopt a new one. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you stumble.”