Here’s a better way to start the New Year: skip the traditional January resolutions and take time for a few New Year reflections instead.
Take a moment to look back on the last 365 days of your life. In years, when you talk about 2020, what stories will you tell? Will there be clapping for healthcare workers every night at 7 p.m.? Or maybe it’s a reminder of the months you spent most of the time at home with family members – or the pandemic bubbles that you formed and that helped make friendships stronger. Maybe you are telling the story of losing someone you loved, or remembering finding strength and resilience that you didn’t know you had.
While reliving much of 2020 sounds like a terrible idea, psychologists say it is a better way to start the new year. Looking back, you can build on what you learned and may even discover some hidden positive habits that you didn’t realize you started.
“I don’t think we’ve done ourselves enough credit,” said Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of The Willpower Instinct. “I don’t think we had the emotional appreciation we need and deserve for the year that many people had. The reflection needed in the moment is a real, honest, and self-compassionate look at what has been lost, who has been lost, and what you want to remember in order to remember 2020. Reflection is a way of being ready to move forward into the New Year. I say this every year, but I think this year is especially true. “
Reflections vs. Resolutions
Thinking about what you achieved in 2020 – and what you missed or lost – is also a healthier path to self-improvement than the typical New Years resolution. Studies consistently show that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. By February most people left them.
The problem with many resolutions is that they are inherently self-critical and come from some sort of magical thinking that one big change – some weight loss, regular exercise, more money – changes lives. “It’s just too easy to look for behavior that you regularly criticize yourself for or that you feel guilty about,” said Dr. McGonigal. “It’s the false promise, ‘If you change this one thing, you will change everything.'”
Studies show that one of the best ways to change behavior and form a new habit is to tie it up with an existing behavior – what is known in the science of habit formation as “stacking”. This is why doctors suggest taking a new medication while you are brushing your teeth or drinking your morning coffee, for example: you are more likely to remember to take your pill if you transfer it to an existing habit. Adding steps to your daily commute is often a better way to add exercise to your day than trying to set a separate time for a daily walk.
By reflecting on the teachings of the past year, we can stack and build on the good habits we started in 2020. Maybe in doing so we had to find new ways to exercise when the gyms were closed, build friendships made by our social bubbles, and organize our homes 24-7 living and learning, learning to cook healthier meals or ourselves for those To blame caring for others.
Now that the vaccine distribution and the end of the pandemic are in sight, it is no longer necessary to abandon these changes and try to build on them. The first challenge is listed below. Then from Monday and every day Next week, the 7 Day Well Challenge will identify a popular quarantine habit and offer a new strategy to turn it into a healthy lifelong habit. Just sign up for the Well newsletter and you will receive a daily email reminder to take part in this day’s challenge.
Quarantined clapping has become a nightly ritual in many parts of the United States and around the world thanks to health care workers. It was both a token of community and a token of gratitude. The experience was what sociologists refer to as “collective flare”. This happens when people come together and participate in a group ritual at the same time.
Clapping for key workers had the effect of “unifying and motivating the group to work toward a common cause such as surviving the pandemic,” said Joshua W. Brown, professor in the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences at Indiana University of Bloomington. “Group expressions of gratitude can be empowering for both those who express them and those who receive them.”
Perhaps you have shown gratitude in other ways. Have you offered delivery and restaurant workers larger tips than usual? Did you thank the food and pharmacy staff from the bottom of your heart at the checkout? Did you remind yourself and your children of all the things you were grateful for when things got tough at home? I took up a regular gratitude hand washing ritual and thought of 10 things to be grateful for – one for each finger I washed.
Why it matters: Numerous studies show that people who practice gratitude daily, consciously counting their blessings, are happier, have less stress, sleep better, and suffer less from depression. In one study, researchers recruited 300 adults, most of them students, for psychological counseling. All volunteers were given advice, but one group added a writing exercise that focused on bad experiences while another group wrote a thank you letter to a different person every week for three weeks. A month later, those who wrote thank you letters reported significantly better mental health. And the effect seems to be permanent. Three months later, the researchers scanned students’ brains while they were doing another gratitude exercise. The students who wrote thank you letters at the start of the study showed greater activation in a part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex, believed to be related to both reward and higher-level cognition.
Take the gratitude challenge
Try one or more of these simple gratitude exercises this week.
Start small. Send an appreciative email or text, thank a service agent, or tell your children, spouse, or friend how they made your life better. “A good way to develop more gratitude would be to take regular small steps – an extra email or thank you letter to a colleague, or an extra personal thank you note and focus on how rewarding it is to make someone’s day more valued . Said Dr. Brown.
Create a gratitude reminder. Dr. McGonigal holds a note on her desk lamp that reads:
3. You yourself
It is a daily reminder to say thank you not only for the people, events and gifts in your life, but also for your own achievements. She might be grateful for a workout, a healthy body, or a new challenge. “Gratitude is really good when you believe in your ability to create a more positive future and a willingness to trust others to help you do so,” said Dr. McGonigal. “And that feels like a really good attitude right now.”
Express your gratitude in writing. You can send emails or post feelings of gratitude on social media or in a group chat. Or think of someone in your life and write them a thank you letter. (You don’t have to mail it.) Fill out your letter with details describing how this person influenced your life and what things you appreciate about them. Or keep a daily gratitude journal.
“I think gratitude comes to its full potential when people can express gratitude in words,” said Y. Joel Wong, chairman of the counseling and educational psychology department at Indiana University. “When we can say what we are grateful for and explain why, it shifts our attention from what is negative to what is positive in our lives.”
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