Before reading further, be advised I am not a professional in the field of mental health, and what I share here should never replace the services provided by someone who is trained to help those who struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety or other mental health issues.
January is a difficult month for many people. We come in at the start full of excitement and hope, determined to accomplish our goals, only to find by the middle of the month, we have already failed to follow through on our resolutions. Add to that feeling of dejection days of minimal sunlight, and, for some, seasonal depression.
Yes, January can be tough. However, January can also be freeing and satisfying. As a person born in January, this month holds deep meaning for me, and I hope the ideas shared below serve you well in the coming weeks and beyond.
Reassess Those Resolutions
Many of us use the upcoming year to make resolutions and set intentions for ourselves. After sticking with them for a few days, often we fail to keep following through. For example, you may have gone in to 2023 determined to run three miles a day, and after a week, you found yourself lacing up your running shoes less and less. You may feel angry, disappointed and frustrated at your failure to follow through. All of these are valid feelings. Failing to stick with a resolution, especially so early on in the year can be such a blow to our egos, many of us see little point in even trying again.
There is a point, and being able to come back to something like running or learning a language or volunteering more is admirable. Yet, when we approach these goals the same way we always have, chances are, we will struggle once more. We tend to believe we need to think big, when thinking small, that is setting tiny, easily attainable goals is a better path toward success.
I first came across this idea of setting small goals when listening to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits on Brene Brown’s “Dare To Lead” podcast. He shared an example of someone’s goal of simply driving to the gym (I believe once a week). Did this person go in the gym at first, no, but the small, repeated habit of just getting there set the stage for them to do so. Even driving might be too much, it could just be the simple act of packing a gym bag one day a week. The point is, even if you “failed” to follow through on those resolutions, you can try again by giving yourself simpler and more attainable goals.
Celebrate The Small Wins
After the past few years we have been through, I believe we all deserve a lot of love and grace for getting to this moment. For many of us, the pandemic has left us with an overwhelming question of “what am I doing with my life?” We feel pressured to make big changes and “correct” areas of our lives.
Pandemic or not, any moment any of us can say I am here, I am alive, I am present is worth celebrating. For some, this could just mean getting out of bed and getting dressed in the morning. For others, it might mean taking a walk around the block. For others, it could just mean spending a minute in front of a mirror brushing their hair. These little moments are huge, and should be celebrated.
Focus On The Present
January tends to be a time of looking ahead. I am guilty of using this time of year to obsess over summer plans and other happenings long in the future. While, planning ahead is necessary at times, and there is nothing wrong with thinking about the future, I know the idea can be stressful.
I find taking the time to be mindful of where I am and what I am doing to be centering and gives me the focus I need to take on more challenging tasks. If you find yourself spiraling into worry, you might find this tip I learned from my therapist helpful. Wherever you are, take a few moments to play a game of “I Spy” (yup the game you play with your kids). By focusing on items in our current space, we can calm our minds and center ourselves.
Remember Even Those “Lost” Days Have Value
I have many days where I intend to check a bunch of items off of my to do list, but my mood, extenuating circumstances or other unexpected things pull me off course, and I am left at the end of the day wondering what I did with my time.
For many of us, we feel like we need tangible evidence of a productive day. This could mean cleaning out our inbox, scheduling doctors’ appointments, putting away laundry and other tasks on our to-do lists. When we have those days where it feels like nothing got done, it can be devastating. However, those “nothing” days are important. Sometimes, we go into them with intention, purposely committing to avoiding most tasks in order to recharge, and sometimes we just find our bodies and minds need a rest and have to cancel plans or put off our task list for a day. Taking care of ourselves, in whatever way that means, isn’t being lazy or self-indulgent, it is vital for living a healthy life.
As I said in the beginning of this post, I am no expert, and I often fail to heed my own advice. I wrote this as much as a guide for myself as anyone else. If you leave with anything, know you are incredible as you are and that every day is a new opportunity.