The January slump and how to effectively move forward in the healthy way you deserve!
You did it! You’ve reached the end of what I like to call the “Roller Coaster Month.” I call it this because January is filled with so many ups and downs, and can sometimes feel out of control. We end the previous year with a hopeful heart and intentions for the brand-new year ahead of us. A new year presents us with the idea of a “new beginning” and society fills our heads with the notion that goals and often, extreme life-changes are requirements of entering into a new year. We’ve all heard the term “New Year, New Me.” However, many research studies have shown that major or extreme life changes are not sustainable in the long term and can lead to shame, which can leave us feeling stuck, disappointed in ourselves, and/or hopeless, with the proposed change disappearing altogether.
Chances are you came into this new year with some goals and you’ve spent most of the month making attempts to reach these goals, make new habits, etc. Also likely, you’ve had some set-backs in reaching these goals and making them “stick.” NEWS FLASH: You’re not alone! Depending on the complexity or achievability of your goals, you’ve likely hit some snags in reinforcing these goals. Whether it be missing a gym session, “cheating” on your diet, or losing your temper in traffic, setbacks are normal. Making significant changes is VERY HARD, and we are biologically wired to be aversive to change (even good, positive change). Another NEWSFLASH: we are not perfect beings and are prone to mistakes/setbacks/backslides.
So what happens when we “fail?” Well, oftentimes we will start to feel guilt, which is a slippery slide to shame. Shame is poisonous, but very insidious. A lot of us will accept shame and try to use it as a motivator to “be better” or “get back on track.” Quick note about shame vs. guilt – guilt is behavior based (e.g., “I did a bad thing”) and shame is character based (e.g., “I am a bad person”). Research shows that shame is rarely, if ever, helpful, especially in the long-term and can lead to more serious issues (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-scientific-underpinnings-and-impacts-of-shame/). Shame leads us to eventually give up and resign to being what we have told ourselves we are. For example, if we create the belief that we are “lazy” and that is the reason why we cannot maintain a consistent gym schedule, we begin to believe it. We then put ourselves into this box and fulfill our own created self-fulfilling prophecy (e.g., “I’m just a lazy person, that’s who I am. I’ll never be able to maintain this because I am lazy”). You can see how this isn’t helpful, right?! Right! So how do we change it?! It’s not super simple, but my hope is that the following strategies may help you start creating new habits and beliefs about yourself and your abilities to actually reach your goals.
1. Recognize that you are not alone: You are among an imperfect humankind. We are all setting goals and “failing” at them. Let yourself feel the comfort of common humanity and talk to your trusted circle for affirmation/commonality. You are not the only one not reaching your goals with perfection.
2. Be aware of your social media intake: Social media is a beast in-and-of itself. Be aware of the pictures we paint of “toxic positivity” and only showing the best of ourselves on social media. This can make you feel like you are alone, and completely deplete the above (you’re not alone) suggestion. Limit your intake if you notice yourself feeling more down or shameless when you are scrolling through.
3. Utilize Self-Compassion techniques to reduce shame: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness are the cornerstones of creating a self-compassion (Kristen Neff, https://self-compassion.org/). Start by utilizing mindfulness of who/where/what/how you are in the present moment as you are right now. Then recognize that you are among many other “flawed” individuals on this Earth. Next, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself and talk to yourself (internally or externally) the way you would talk to someone who you love and care for deeply. Would you tell your best friend/spouse/child/etc. that they are a failure because they had an extra scoop of ice cream? I hope not! No, you wouldn’t because that would be hurtful and harmful to that person. So don’t do it to yourself. This will disrupt the sneaky shame from putting its claws into your psyche.
4. Use S.M.A.R.T. goals techniques: This is key! Create goals using a template to increase your chances of success. START SMALL! If your goal is to work out 5 days a week in the gym, but you’ve never step foot in a gym before, start with 1 day a week. And once you get used to that, increase it to 2 days a week, and so on. Success that is sustainable and achievable starts with small steps. You can’t climb Mount Everest without first taking a walk around the block! S.M.A.R.T. stands for Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound. These guidelines can assist you in creating goals that you may be more successful at reaching! You can find an information and template here: https://www.sandiego.edu/hr/documents/STAFFGoals-PerfPlanningGuide1.pdf
Remember, you are still the same amazing you that you were before the clock struck midnight and the year changed over! If you want to make some healthy changes for yourself, good for you! Just make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for unrealistic changes that can manifest shame.