The first week of January is the perfect time to harness the rapid, transformative energy of the New Year – often via the age-old tradition of writing New Year’s resolutions. But here’s the trouble: half of the advice out there is empowering you to go after your ambitions; the other half implores you to slow down and be gentle with yourself. With such conflicting counsel on how to draft your New Year’s resolutions, how do you stay on track?
The answer to this – and indeed, many of life’s dilemmas! – is to know when. You don’t have to choose between being empowered and being gentle with yourself; you need both to succeed. What we should seek this New Year is the wisdom to choose the appropriate approach for the present situation.
Here’s how to know when to push harder with your fitness goals, your job or schoolwork, your loved ones, and yourself – and when to give yourself a rest.
Your fitness goals
Getting into shape is at the top of the New Year’s Resolutions list for most people, but it’s also often the first to go out the window. When it comes to sustaining your fitness goals all-year-round, how do you know when to be disciplined and when to indulge?
When to push: Push when you have a clear, attainable fitness goal. Whether you’re training for a marathon or just looking to tone your muscles, attach a specific, measurable, realistic number to your goals (for example, running two miles a day or doing fifty sit-ups) and commit to it. Over time, gradually increase your workout, but don’t push yourself too far too quickly – this may damage your body and cause delays, disrupting momentum.
When to rest: Rethink your fitness goals if you’re only looking to get skinny quick – especially if your New Year’s Resolutions include slimming teas or fad diets. Committing to a healthier diet will benefit you, but allow yourself to indulge in your favourite treats – in moderation! As for exercise, take scheduled rest days from workouts, and skip the gym if you really need to. Even athletes have off-seasons. Don’t exert yourself when, instead, you should be catching up on much needed sleep. Balance is key.
Your job and/or schoolwork
Another difficult area to balance is career – professional or academic! Are you the person who’s sneaking peeks at their emails at the dinner table? Or are you the opposite, who’s mindlessly phubbing on social media while their deadlines loom ever closer?
When to push: Keep pushing when you have a concrete goal or deadline to meet! Make this life hack your New Year’s Resolution: break the whole job into smaller tasks and schedule them in a timetable leading up to your deadline. This way, when you meet your goals for the day, you’ll feel accomplished – and you’ll know it’s time to stop work for now. The constant feeling of achievement will allow you to build up momentum. Meanwhile, pace yourself so you can avoid going too big, too fast. Burnout can occur when you insist on taking on too much and carrying on even when you’ve got no mental energy left to give.
When to rest: Be honest with yourself about when you need to take breaks. Are you forcing yourself to keep reading even when your brain isn’t absorbing any information anymore? Take a nap instead of downing another tumbler of coffee. Sleep is when your brain resets itself and solidifies the new things you’ve learned in your memory. No amount of caffeine can substitute for that!
And if you’re still stuck with that burning question – do you really need that social media break? Perhaps you do. Scroll through the new Tweets and Instagram posts once, reply to your messages, and clear your notifications. Then put your phone down and stay focused on the task at hand until your next break.
Has your horoscope for 2019 suggested that you block off more time to spend with your loved ones? With your calendar filling up quickly, how will you balance free time between your friends and with yourself?
When to push: Maybe you haven’t seen your friends in ages, and they know it, and you know it. Maybe it’s your little niece or nephew’s fifth music recital, and your family’s been on your case about you missing the last one – or four. Here’s something to ponder this New Year: what if this is the last year you’ll have with someone you love?
Life is fun only because it’s short, and no one ever looks back and cherishes the days they spent in the office! When it matters, take a day off to hang out with family and friends. In the long run, they’re the company that deserves your loyalty. And when you’re there, resist the urge to work and worry about other things when you’re with them. Work hard to be fully present.
When to rest: Alternatively, know when to be your own best friend. Sometimes your off days are few and far between, and you’d much rather stay in and binge-watch the newest Netflix offering than drive halfway across the city to mingle all night with a roomful of people. Sometimes the thought of forcing yourself to sit through another awkward family dinner is enough to make you lose your appetite. It’s okay to gracefully decline!
Time spent enjoying our own company is just as important and necessary for self-care. Send your friends or family your sincere apologies then go back to bed. (But if you promise to make it up to them next time, make sure to follow through!)
Your biggest project this year should be you. Invest in learning, bettering yourself, listening to yourself, caring for what matters. Dig deeper and find out a little more about yourself and your potential. But, since who we are informs what we do, how do we decide which parts of us to take into the New Year, and which parts to lay to rest in the past?
When to push: The whole point of New Year’s Resolutions is to push ourselves to try a little harder, be a little kinder, and do a little bit more than the year before. We take stock of what we did last year—what were our successes? What were our failures? How did we learn from both? Then we start to write that list, and resolve to leave those detrimental behaviours behind in the past. To start over, we must be able to forgive the people who made reaching our goals a little harder – even if that person turns out to have been ourselves.
When to rest: Improvement is not linear. There will be days when the pain, anger, or sadness that caused your bad behaviours will come back, and sometimes they’ll be just as potent as they were on the first day. If they do, don’t pressure yourself into willing away the feelings. It’s okay to feel them. Denying that you’re hurt means you’re lying to yourself. Lying to yourself breeds mistrust, inauthenticity, and a low self-esteem.
Instead, allow your negative emotions to run their course, then let them leave you. As is the case with each new year, the only way out is through.