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Louis Baragona

Louis Baragona

Updated: 12/20/2022

January doesn’t have to be a race to reveal a new you — here, how to set goals for the new year without all the pressure.

The month of January is one dedicated almost exclusively to change (often good, healthy change!): fitness streaming sites see a spike, dating apps get some new relationship-ready faces and more wine bottles are left corked during dry weekends.

That said, the pressure to make a radical change can be daunting, fueling feelings of anxiety and guilt around any missed milestones. And there's actually a name for these negative feelings: Sana Powell, MA, LPC, calls it "new year anxiety". “It can stem from pressures, expectations and (what feel like mandatory) resolutions that are typically associated with entering a new year,” says Powell.

But the new year doesn't have to mean a new you. "It's normal and healthy to set goals and want to stick to them, but beating yourself up doesn’t make for a happy start to anything," she adds.

Here, how to set goals while taking the pressure off.

RELATED: Why We’re Drawn to Starting Fresh — And How to Actually Do It

How to Combat New Year Anxiety

1. Form a Mental Plan

Lia Avellino, LCSW, advisor of Head & Heart at THE WELL, recommends being strategic about the way you think about your goals.

“The idea of ‘new year, new me’ often sets us up for disappointment because our skills aren't aligned with our goals,” says Avellino. “If we make a goal to change careers, for example, but we do not have a well-laid plan in place or don't have experience in job hunting, we may not be setting ourselves up for success.”

So, start small and put plans in place. “Frame your resolutions as an opportunity to get in touch with your desires, identify your capacity, pinpoint both internal and systemic barriers to living out your desires and identify what skills you need to pave the way,” Avellino recommends. “Starting smaller can be helpful in helping our bodies and mind experience change. From there, we can say ‘I got this.’”

2. Find Your "Why"

Dig deeper into what your goals are, why you made them and what might be at the root of your worries for the year ahead.

“Oftentimes we set goals based on what we think we need to achieve, not necessarily what our intuitions want us to experience,” says Avellino. “Identify why you may be craving a new you. Is there something in yourself that you feel dissatisfied with? We may want to feel a different way, which may not actually require us changing ourselves, but rather accepting ourselves.”

3. Clean House

It’s not always about putting something else on our plates — sometimes it's about taking something off.

“Consider the ways you want to subtract rather than add to your life,” advises Avellino. “Resolutions are often about doing more and being more. Are there ways that you can actually do less to feel differently about yourself and your life?”

4. Be Flexible

The oultimate fear of a new year: not accomplishing your goals. What will happen if you don't end up achieving your lengthy list of resolutions? What if you have to face a so-called failure?

Build a willingness to pivot from the original plan, recommends Avellino. "A key part of successful change is being flexible and experimenting — try new things and see what works and what doesn't,” she says.

5. Quit Comparing

All the before-and-after photos or new partner pics on social media might feel targeted to you, but that's just your natural desire to compare yourself. Instead, go inward. “Ask yourself if those you compare yourself to seem to share the same values as you,” recommends Avellino.

If not, why compare?

Keep in mind that not everything in a sprit, let alone your experiences — even if it may feel that way sometimes. In fact, according to Avellino, everyone is running a marathon of our own. So, no one should be held to the same judging standards.

“Be mindful that we live in a capitalist society that promotes competition,” says Avellino. “Some of the pressure you may feel might be due to a system that values productivity, whiteness, thinness, achievements. Lean on a community for support to stay true to your authentic values… In somatic therapy, we have a phrase: we go slower to go deeper. It's not about getting there fast, it's about taking time and doing the work to live a life that you feel proud of.”

RELATED: 3 Daily Habits to Process Difficult Emotions

6. Check In With Yourself

Avellino has a few prompts or guiding questions for you to ask yourself as you forge ahead with the new year:

  1. How can I tell the difference between when I am second guessing myself because of my anxiety and when I am taking the time I need to be reflective because my intuition is telling me to do so?
  2. Why am I putting my efforts towards changing? Is this effort worth the energy? How am I defining my worth?
  3. When considering making choices with how to spend my time, to whom or what do I say “hell yeah” when I think of them? What needs to shift for me to spend more energy devoted to my hell yeahs?
  4. With whom am I not being direct and clear? What is getting in the way of me distinctly stating my feelings, needs and beliefs?
  5. Are my decisions being made from a place of fear (I don't want so and so to…, it might not work out...) or desire (I visualize myself in this job, relationship, community, embodied identity)?
  6. When I notice I am blaming, judging or being jealous of another person, can I reframe these experiences as invitations to observe (not self-blame) how I may be dissatisfied with myself? And then can I have the courage to use this information as a guide to take me where I want to go in my life?

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