Mid-year resolutions

July 9, 2021

We all probably have mixed feelings about new year's resolutions. Although they seem like a great idea at the time, they can quickly fade from our list of daily priorities and ultimately set us up for disappointment.

The benefit of resolutions has to do with the power of prospective thinking, or “the mental representation and evaluation of possible futures”. Which, in short, means viewing the future as a blank canvas. Research in positive psychology has shown that when we set aside time to imagine future possibilities, we are pulled by the future rather than pushed by the past and we are better able to tap into our full potential.

So when you look honestly at them, what’s happened to your personal health and wellness goals since new year? Maybe you’ve successfully managed to make your resolutions into a habit, but if you’re one of the majority who haven’t then making mid-year resolutions could be the reset you need.

Back to prospective thinking - it requires a mix of planning, prediction and daydreaming - the last of which is often sadly disregarded. Dreaming of possible futures frees us from the fatalism of assuming the past determines our fate. In other words, just because your new year’s resolutions didn't stick, it doesn’t mean you can’t plan more achievable mid-year resolutions.

According to Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, the ability to contemplate the future is what makes us human. Our brains naturally continue to rewrite the past because doing so allows us to envision a new future. Our narrative is an evolving work-in-progress.

What will help you to stick to your new goals is making them SMART. That’s an acronym coined in the journal Management Review in 1981 for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. 

  • Specific. Your resolution should be absolutely clear. Making a concrete goal is really important rather than just vaguely saying you want to do something - instead of saying you want to start running more, saying you want to be able to run 5 miles in the next six months will be much more effective.
  • Measurable. This may seem obvious if your goal is a fitness related one, but it’s also important if you’re trying to cut back on something, too. Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behaviors can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution may be.
  • Achievable. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have big stretch goals. But trying to take too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated, or affect other areas of your life to the point that your resolution takes over your life — and both you and your friends and family flail.
  • Relevant. Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons? If you do it out of a sense of self-hate or remorse or a strong passion in that moment, it doesn’t usually last long. But if you build up a process where you’re thinking harder about what’s good for you and gradually changing the structure of your life, you’re setting yourself up with the best chance of success.
  • Time-bound. Like “achievable,” the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too. That means giving yourself enough time to do it with lots of smaller intermediate goals set up along the way.

One easy resolution to achieve is a focus on preventative healthcare. If you’ve been letting things like your annual wellness visit with your primary care physician or your annual skin check with your dermatologist slip while we’ve all had our lives on pandemic hold, there’s no better time than now to make those appointments.

Start where you are and do what you can.