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Opinion: Go easy on yourself in relation to New Year's resolutions - we've been through a lot

Siobhan Murray says it’s not the time to deprive or judge ourselves, but instead to celebrate all we’ve coped with in the last two years.

Image: Shutterstock/Pavle Bugarski

New Year’s resolution
noun [ C ]

A promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year.

THE MERE MENTION of New Year’s resolutions gives me the shivers. On average, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. Research shows that on average, it takes approximately 66 days for a habit to become automatic.

Right now I can’t think past today never mind 66 days into the future. So as 2022 approaches, rather than list off the goals I’m going to achieve, personally and professionally, I’m going to spend some time looking at all I achieved in 2021 with the view of upping my happiness.

Negative bias

As human beings, we have an incredible ability to focus on what we do wrong, what we failed at and what isn’t working. We tend to live in a state of a ‘negative bias’.

Our tendency to pay more attention to bad things – and let’s be honest, the last two years has been an onslaught of bad things – and overlook good things stems from early mankind.

Back in caveman times, paying attention to bad, dangerous, and negative threats (animals that could kill us, for instance) in the world was literally a matter of life and death. The stress response of fight or flight was needed for survival.

For the cavemen and women, living in a state of ‘negative bias’ meant they were always ready for the worst to happen. We still hold on to that negative bias, it’s in our DNA, and have to work that bit harder on finding a ‘positive bias; in our day.

To be clear, I don’t mean ignoring dangers, I simply mean being able to focus on what has, and is, working well in our lives rather than the exhausting focus on what isn’t.

Our internal critic can be extremely harsh at the best of times, but add into the mix, lack of social connections, remote working, emotional exhaustion, physical exhaustion, grief, loss and numerous other challenges we have all been juggling and our inner critic can make us feel pretty useless.

Role of technology

It’s also important to note that most of us are now living with a device that has permeated our entire existence – the smartphone.

While the benefits of instant access to masses of information and connection to others brought about by this technology are unquestionable, what it has also done is ensure that we are now ‘always on’.

That constant bombardment of our brain and our senses, the dopamine kicks we seek via social media, they’re all impacting how we live, how we feel and how we judge ourselves. 

It is so much easier to question your life choices, criticise where you are in your life if you’ve just been doomscrolling and fighting the FOMO watching everyone else’s ‘perfect lives’ online.

We must always remember that what we see in those feeds is often curated, tailored and edited. It is not a reflection of reality, of the real struggles of everyday life. The best thing you could do for yourself is to put the phone down as often as you possibly can. Yes, it’s a glorious tool, a window to the world, but be mindful of the impact it can have on your mindset.

Be proud of yourself

So instead of adding to your stress and deciding to give up or take up why not spend 2022 reminding yourself of everything you achieved to date, work on detaching from work when you’re not working, relaxing when you can and leaving the mastery of new ventures to another time.

It’s been a long two years, handling Covid, new rules, masks, loss of contact and all the anxiety that has come with it. Not to mention battling the illness itself and the loss of loved ones. Our way of life has been upended and we have coped so well, so take a moment to say, ‘well done’ to yourself. You’ve made it this far, that’s worth celebrating.

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However small you may think your achievements may be, each time you think of a positive action it activates a little part of your brain that gives you the feel-good factor. And if that is what you achieve in 2022 then that is huge!

Siobhan Murray is a resilience/life coach and a psychotherapist. She is the author of The Burnout Solution, a book that offers a step-by-step guide to overcoming burnout.

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