New YearOptimism

New Year Resolutions and Optimism…

It’s the time of year where lots of us make resolutions and I have the usual ones that won’t last past the first two weeks in January – lose weight, exercise more, those kind of things. These are the surface level, body related resolutions that are attached to how I present myself to the outside world.

I’m naturally optimistic, some would say a little bit too optimistic, if one can be. I have a good body image and I am fairly resilient to criticism, and at most other times of the year I am perfectly happy with how I look and with my achievements. So why the constant resolving to make changes around the New Year?

It’s all about conditioning. We’re naturally stocking up our bodies mid winter to cope with the cold spell to come before Spring. On top of this are festivities around the end of December for Solstice, Christmas and New Year, where retailers admit that there is a big push to persuade us to buy merchandise, food and drink that we don’t buy at any other time of the year. We watch TV more and we are bombarded with images of people who are paid to make their bodies a certain way for TV, and inevitably see advertising connected to self improvement.

After all that indulgence we often feel we need to slim down, tone up and start a new year in top form. We rationalise this with oversimplified explanations of how we ‘should’ look or feel and attempt to conform to these. To sum up, we spend more money, eat more food than we need and then feel guilty. Then we wonder why we don’t feel optimistic. Then we resolve to make changes so we will feel happier, more optimistic.

While optimism can come from goal setting, these goals need to be achievable. Weight loss needs to be gradual, as does exercise. Similarly, any psychological goals we set at the beginning of the year need to be thought through and reflected upon. The December holiday break provides a real opportunity for reflection on the past year.

I like to separate my goals into sections of life. These might be: body, writing, work, holidays, relationships, food, addictions. Then I think about how realistic it would be to set myself huge challenges, and how this worked out last year. For example, I set myself the goal of doing Pilates every week in my 2012 resolutions, but didn’t take into account the effect of my back problem on this when I thought this was a good idea during late December. I stopped mid January. Also, I was determined to eradicate my love for Coca Cola, but that didn’t work out either, but I did moderate to Coke Zero!

One area where I did pace myself was writing. I made a general goal that was entirely within my control. Instead of declaring that I would ‘get published’ or ‘get and agent’, both which require the agreement of other people, I resolved to learn more about writing and write better quality work.

Making resolutions that are not entirely in your control is a surefire way to diffuse optimism as the year goes on. The common resolutions around food, alcohol and smoking are the most difficult because they are usually outside your control in that is is often necessary to obtain assistance (sometimes medical) to resolve the issue, and even then, the struggle to beat addiction to alcohol, nicotine, sugar or caffeine in difficult. Careful planning to complete goals such as stopping smoking is necessary, rather than sweeping resolutions at the turn of the year.

The biggest barriers against optimism are psychological. Social factors such as the recession and subsequent financial impacts can make feeling optimistic very difficult. However, many people have told me that their response to the recession was to make choices around living more frugally. Kick-started into panic mode by financial forecasts of doom, many people have pulled in their belts and spent time assessing their finances, shaving off unnecessary expenses, being less wasteful and paying off debts. This shows a shift from the reliance on external factors for optimistic thoughts, to reliance on personal goals and achievements for the feel-good factor.

So, to succeed, New Year resolutions need to be based on personal responsibility and be achievable. If you want that newly opened bag of optimism to outlast January, make yourself some goals that are within your control.

Optimism isn’t about what happens to you or about luck, it’s about what YOU make happen.

Happy New Year.