New Year 2023 – the psychology behind setting goals

22 December 2022

New Year gives us a sense of renewal, which causes us to think about areas in our life we want to improve or change.

The beginning of a new year offers something we crave. A fresh start, hope, a sense of possibility. The running theme of our annual aspiration is seizing back control of our lives. This is particularly so as we prepare for 2023. We want to leave the chaos and rapid change of the last three years behind. As we approach the new year it is a good time to review and renew our goals for the year ahead. We also need to have self-compassion and be realistic as to what we can achieve. It is important to understand what we can control and what is outside our control. We need to be cognisant that we can control our reaction to events but often those events are outside of our control.

Some key questions to ask ourselves at this time are:

A resolution is a statement of what we want to change. For example, saving money. A goal is a statement of what we want to achieve; the steps we need to take to achieve it; and when we want to achieve it by. The biggest reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail is that: we know what we want but not why we want it. It is crucial to understand our motivation for change. When we understand our motivation then we can use that to energise us to achieve the change we want. Also our goal and our motivation must align with our values and what is important to us. If we feel conflicted our motivation will wane. It is also better to be action oriented rather than focusing on what to avoid. For example changing eating or sleeping habits rather than avoidance-oriented which are motivated by a desire to avoid something like fast food and late nights.

Some other tips for success in making change to achieve our goals:

  1. Choose one specific goal, preferably one that you can measure to ensure you can assess the progress you have made. Make sure that you will enjoy achieving this goal. Don’t take on too much change at once.
  2. Put time into planning and break your progress into small steps. Be able to visualise the outcome you want and the steps along the way. Have a time frame for each step and the long term goal but be flexible if you have a setback.
  3. Learn from failure. Analyse what went wrong and then develop a different approach.
  4. Remember that change is a process. Keep going back to your motivator to give you energy. Enjoy the journey. It can take time and persistence to change our habits.
  5. Find support, this may be a person or something that helps you such as an app. If you have someone going along the same path you can encourage each other. Some competition may assist with your motivation too.
  6. Measure change and reward success. Celebrate every step forward.
  7. Regularly go back to what motivates you and review it. Over time your motivator may change.

An important factor in achieving our goals is willpower. Willpower goes by many names: drive, determination, self-discipline, self-control, and resolve. Willpower is the ability to control or restrain ourselves, and the ability to resist instant gratification in order to achieve long-term goals. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), other definitions include:

Willpower is needed in order to achieve our goals and willpower is a predictor of success in life. While many of us struggle with willpower and self-control, it is believed that willpower is a skill that can be learned and strengthened. However it is also believed that willpower is a limited resource which is depleted by overuse. Training our willpower can work wonders but we must not overdo it. We are better able to use our willpower when we are well rested and calm. Naturally willpower is assisted if we avoid temptation.

As we move into 2023 we know that there will not be a sudden improvement in healthcare resources, in particular staff levels. Our goals must focus on what we can control which is managing our own wellbeing despite the demands. While we will be doing our best to provide compassionate care to patients it will be essential to set boundaries and to maximise our self-compassion and self-care. We cannot look after others if we do not look after ourselves.

Kay Dunkley
AMA Victoria doctor wellbeing and mentoring

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