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Dr. Amanda Mulfinger is the Owner and President of Cabot Psychological Services in Edina, Minnesota. She studied psychology at Harvard University prior to receiving her master's degree and PhD from Auburn University.

Read other articles from Dr. ​Mulfinger

New Year's Resolutions Aren't For Everyone

by Dr. Amanda Mulfinger

This time of year doesn’t have to be filled with anxiety and obligation. Give yourself the out—you don’t HAVE to make a single resolution. But if you do, make it easy on yourself by using a resource or two that will help guide you, and make those resolutions specific and achievable. Meanwhile, enjoy the last days of 2016 and reflect on some of the simple moments of joy that this outgoing year may have brought you.

Ah, it’s that time of year again. Because the calendar is resetting to ones (1/1/2017), we have been conditioned to believe that NOW is the time to reinvent ourselves, be our best selves, perfect our behavior until we rise at the same early hour every day after getting eight hours of sleep, go to the gym, make ourselves a healthy breakfast while cheerfully engaging with our family, head to work without complaining or feeling bitter toward our coworker who chews her gum too loudly, etc., etc.

If you are a normal human being, you probably realize that January 1st is just another day, and you aren’t likely to become an entirely new person in 2017, all because you’ve made the perfect new year’s resolutions. So, a few things to consider as you begin the new year (or anytime, really—I’m just succumbing to convention).

New Year's Resolutions Aren't For Everyone
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  1. Decide if resolutions are right for you. Most of us have tried them, some of us have had success. If you find yourself making resolutions because you feel like you “should,” or because everyone around you is, you can probably cut yourself a break. Resolutions aren’t a requirement of December turning into January. However, if you’ve been contemplating a change or tweak in your lifestyle, now might be a good time to try putting it into place, reserving judgment if it doesn’t take.
  2. Create specific, shorter-term goals. As implied above, now isn’t the time to transition into an entirely new (perfect) person. If you want to make a resolution, think small. Rather than “I’m going to be healthier in 2017,” consider “I’m going to [drink 8 glasses of water a day, get 8 hours of sleep most nights, start taking a good multivitamin] this year.” If your goal is vague, you’ll lose track of it. Better yet, consider trying a resolution for just one month. For example, “Every day in January I will put away my clothes and shoes before I go to bed.” This resolution is concrete, achievable, and has an end date. The best part is that if you enjoy the consequences of following your resolution for a month (i.e. having less clutter), you are welcome to keep doing it, and the habit will already be established. And if you find out that you prefer to leave your shoes out (because come on, you’re just going to wear them again tomorrow), you can decide to do it without any misgivings—January was really just a trial period.
  3. Utilize “best practices.” Many, many books have been written about forming new habits (which is what resolutions generally are), and I don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. One of my favorites is Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. In it, she shares a bunch of strategies she’s observed that help people form new habits. For example, pair something fun with something that you want to establish as a habit. I, for one, only watch one particular TV show while I run on the treadmill. It actually helps me look forward to my workout, because I get to do something that I like (while I do something I like less). One more teaser: make your new habit as convenient as possible. For example, if you want to learn more about a certain subject, pile the literature next to wherever you read (next to your bed, a favorite chair, in the bathroom…). If you don’t have to get up and hunt down your project, you are much more likely to actually do it.