January is the time to set your resolutions… Or is it? Here’s why New Year’s resolutions aren’t always the best approach, and what you can do instead.
As the New Year begins, it’s natural to think ahead to what we’d like to achieve over the coming 12 months. While resolutions work for some, for many of us they don’t, and for good reasons, too.
Often, New Year’s resolutions tend to be too big and undefined – ‘lose weight’, ‘run a marathon’, ‘pass my exams’, ‘improve my work/life balance’. And it’s no coincidence that these grand proclamations are often made over the festive season when we’re (hopefully) feeling a bit more relaxed and optimistic, and surrounded by others doing the same.
But perhaps the biggest risk with New Year’s resolutions is the impact that failure can have on our mental health and feelings of self-worth. When we fail – research shows that most resolutions are broken by the middle of January – we can be left feeling disappointed, demotivated and frustrated with ourselves. It’s additional pressure during what is already a stressful and challenging time, juggling work, studying and other commitments.
So, instead of making resolutions, try something different this year. Here are some steps for success…
1 Set SMART goals
If you’re the type of person who finds goals motivational, and you do want to set some for the coming year, make sure they’re SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound (find out more about effective goal-setting in our article here). Stick to two or three that are most important to you and, perhaps most crucially of all, make sure they are YOUR goals, and not based on others’ expectations.
2 Stay positive
There’s a lot of negativity surrounding the start of the year, with talk of ‘Blue Monday’ and the ‘January blues’. It’s true that the festivities are over for another year, it’s cold and dark, and it’s a long time until payday – plus, of course, this is a particularly busy time for many accountants. But it doesn’t have to be depressing. Change the narrative from negative to positive: embrace the quieter season and see it as an opportunity to ‘hibernate’, to relax, rest and recharge, rather than worrying about dragging yourself to the gym in the dark.
3 Look back rather than forward
January is named for the two-faced Roman god Janus: as well as looking ahead to the coming year, it’s a time to reflect on the one that came before. Think back over your achievements over the past 12 months – what are you most proud of? Is it a high-scoring exam result, completing a challenging project at work, or being there for a friend in need? Chances are it will be the small or unexpected things that brought you the most joy and satisfaction, so focus on those when it comes to thinking about what you want to achieve this year.
4 Don’t compare yourself to others
How many times this week have you been asked what your New Year’s resolutions are? Remember, there is no requirement to change things just because January has rolled around – why not celebrate ‘New Year, same you’? We’re surrounded by stories of other people’s success, especially on social media, which inevitably leads us to compare ourselves unfavourably. This is your journey, so resist the temptation to see how well other people’s resolutions (and lives) are going.
5 Don’t be afraid to fail
Failure is a part of life. It’s how you approach, and learn from, the experience that influences whether it is ultimately a positive or negative one. Take some time to reflect, to feel sad and frustrated, then pick yourself up and move on. Be careful how you talk to yourself about failure and the inner language you use – too often we’re much more critical of ourselves than we would be of a friend in the same situation.
6 Make the right kind of plans
There’s a reason why so many holidays are booked in January – having something to look forward to, and work towards, can be much more motivational than a looming deadline. Celebrate your successes and schedule rewards throughout the year, whether it’s a big international trip or a Friday night catch-up with friends.
7 Be open to opportunities
Rather than planning exactly what you’d like to happen over the next 12 months, start the new year with an open mind. Stay in the present. Take chances, say yes to new experiences, and embrace opportunities when they come along. Remember that positive change can happen anytime, not just on an arbitrary date in the calendar. We’re all a work in progress, and we can make improvements at any time throughout the year and throughout our lives.
Wellbeing support is available for ACA students from caba. Visit caba.org.uk for more information on managing your physical and mental health, as well as resources on financial health and career advice.
You can also download the 2023 planners to support your training: ACA, ICAEW CFAB, Level 7 and Level 4 are now available.