Reframe Your Resolutions
New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time to reflect on the past year and think about goals for the upcoming year. While the actual actions of reflecting and goal setting certainly don’t need to be restricted just to January 1, it is an ideal time to think more about HOW we go about reflecting and setting goals.
Humans tend to have a negativity bias in which we tend to notice negative things more readily than positive ones, but also to dwell on them more. That may seem like a negative thing (see what I did there), it actually has some evolutionary advantages. Noticing and remembering positive things helps keep us happy; but noticing and remembering negative things helps keep us SAFE. All humans tend to do this to some degree, research is showing that individuals with depression and anxiety do it to a greater extent than those without.
This isn’t just a super interesting factoid, it’s an important way to frame our New Year’s Eve reflections, especially if you're dealing with any mental illness. Acknowledging this negativity bias and purposely reframing our thoughts in a more positive way can not only help us feel better, but it’s probably also closer to reality.
So what does it look like to reflect while keeping negativity bias to a minimum?
1. Focus on the facts first without attaching any meaning or feelings to them. What ACTUALLY HAPPENED?
2. Examine both the positive and negative aspects of the situation, understanding that because of negativity bias it probably will take some extra digging to find the positives.
3. Interpret those facts as neutrally as possible giving equal weight to both the positives and the negatives.
And if you still feel crappy about the situation, you can take it a step further and ask “what’s the benefit of me feeling negatively about it?” Unless there’s a way to do something differently or learn from it, it’s probably okay to do like Elsa and “Let it Go” (I have a Frozen obsessed 3 year old...I can work Elsa, Anna or Olaf into ANYTHING).
I often work with patients to set goals. Honestly, the goal itself is usually pretty irrelevant. I mean we set goals that will be helpful for mental health, but the real magic is in doing the work the meet the goal - whatever it is. Just setting the goal releases dopamine, a potent feel good neurochemical. More dopamine is released each time a step is taken towards the goal, which is a powerful motivator to continue. Such a beautiful system!
With this in mind, setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time based (SMART) is a good framework.
Specific: your goal is direct, detailed and meaningful
Measurable: your goal is quantifiable to track success
Attainable: your goal is realistic and you have the tools to achieve it
Relevant: your goal aligns with something that is important to you
Time based: your goal has a deadline
Following this structure “I want to exercise more” turns into “I will walk around the block every other day for the next two weeks”. So much more motivating (likely because your brain is able to visualize with enough clarity to trigger a dopamine release)!
When working with patients, especially those new to goal setting or with anxiety or depression, I find that starting small - like “take what you think is attainable and then cut it in half” kind of small goes a LONG WAY. Setting a goal that’s too low and achieving it still releases dopamine that will be a motivator when the goal is increased. Setting a goal that’s too high and failing certainly doesn’t.
Now that we’ve got a good structure, here are some fun questions for New Year’s Eve.
1. What went well over the past year? Don’t forget about that negativity bias. Look for the positives!
2. Who needs to be acknowledged? Sharing gratitude with those in your life helps them to feel good, but it also increases your joy.
3. How did you grow over the last year? Give yourself some credit!
4. What were the peak moments for you - and why? Identify the times where you felt right with the world and then figure out what contributed to that allows you to carry that forward into the New Year.
5. What’s not working? This is a toughie, but acknowledging what’s not going well can give you the clarity to change course or make peace.
6. What changes do you expect in the coming year?
7. How can you prepare?
8. Who can you connect with more in the coming year?
9. What kind of leader, friend, partner, parent (name other roles) do you want to be?
10. What do you want?
11. How will you put this into action? Bust out your SMART goal structure.
12. What’s your mantra for 2020? Write it down and put it somewhere - or everywhere - you can see it.
If one of your goals is to improve your mental health, White Pine Mental Health & Wellness is here to help. Reach out through our contact form to get started making 2020 a healthy year.