New Years Resolution & Self-Compassion
By Clinical Psychologist Dr James Kirby
When the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve we all celebrate and enjoy the moment. However, not long after, we get met with that dreaded question?
So what are your New Years Resolutions?
This can lead to all sorts of responses, such as: lose weight, exercise more, spend more time with my children, save more money, drink less, or even find a new hobby. Sound familiar? Our New Year Resolutions really can be quite diverse. However, one common element to all of these resolutions is that they require a lot of hard work. All the resolutions I listed are also quite vague and not that specific, yet we hear them all the time, indeed many of them are ones I have set myself.
I set lose weight and exercise more as my New Years Resolutions for 2015.
It has been about three weeks since New Years Eve, and around this time many of us can feel like we have failed with the resolutions we set ourselves. Some of us may have even forgotten exactly what we did choose as our resolutions. For example, some research estimates suggest that about 60% of New Years resolution gym memberships go unused, and that these gym memberships are rated as one of the biggest money wasters for our back pocket. Despite this knowledge, joining the gym is still one of the most common New Years resolutions.
One of the problems with New Years Resolutions is when we don’t meet them this can make us feel depressed, frustrated, and sometimes angry, as many of us see it as a sign of failure. Since New Years Eve I have exercised more, but losing weight, well that hasn’t happened yet. One of the problems with these New Years Resolutions is that often they aren’t specific, and research has shown that we are more likely to succeed or come close to success if we set short-term specific goals (Locke, Shaw, Saari. & Latham (1981).
So instead of setting a resolution such as exercising more, what would be better is setting a setting a specific goal such as:
I will aim to exercise three afternoons a week for 30 minutes for the first month.
And then after that first month review how you have been going. If it hasn’t been going as planned you can try to work out how to overcome any obstacles, you might even need to modify the goal, and then try again for the next month. Alternatively if you have met that goal, make sure you congratulate yourself for the efforts you have made. Setting achievable and specific short-term goals are often better than vague, open-ended goals, because we can gauge how we are going. However, when we take a moment to review how we have been going it is important to have a little bit of self-compassion with these resolutions.
But what is self-compassion?
Self-compassion has been defined as involving three important components (Neff, 2003), and I will use exercise as an example of how to apply self-compassion to your resolutions.
- Being mindful as opposed to over-identifying with the problem. For example, being mindful that you are struggling with exercise at this present time, as opposed to seeing yourself as a complete failure always with exercise.
- Connecting with others as opposed to isolating yourself. For example, realising that you are likely not the only one struggling with exercise, indeed many others struggle with exercise as well.
- Being kind and loving to yourself as opposed to being judgemental. For example you could say to yourself, “May I be forgiving of myself, and continue to try and exercise.”
We know when we are more self-compassionate as individuals; it helps with our own psychological health (Neff, 2003). We also know that individuals with greater self-compassion have been found to have less anxiety and depression (Neff & Dahm, 2014). People with higher levels of self-compassion also have been found to ruminate less (Neff, 2003), and tend to have fewer negative emotions such as irritability, hostility or distress (Neff, Rude, & Kirkpatrick, 2007).
So as you can see much can be gained by being a little more self-compassionate. I do a lot of research and clinical work with parents. And often parents will come to the clinic with the problem “I just don’t know if I am doing it right?” In these situations often parents are looking for a little bit of reassurance that they are actually doing a good job. To me it would seem parents would benefit greatly from some self-compassion. For example if you are a parent struggling in a particular situation with your child the following may be useful:
- I am noticing this is a moment where I am struggling with parenting
- I am not alone with my struggle, others also struggle with parenting
- May I give myself the compassion that I need in this moment
Self-compassion is something I think we can all benefit from. It just involves those three important points: (1) being mindful, (2) connecting with others, and (3) be kind and loving towards yourself.
So have a look at your New Years Resolutions. Do you need to change them to specific goals and start again for February? And when reviewing them, be sure to do so with some self-compassion.