Resolutions & Stepping Stones

The leap year of 2016 is also the year of the Fire Monkey on the Chinese calendar. Mercury makes a rare transit between the sun and the earth, and many have already sailed through the first week of their New Year resolutions.

Many of the New Year resolutions we pledge each year can be a little on the ambitious side. Nevertheless, we press ahead with sword and shield, eager to prove they can survive beyond the average four-week lifespan. It’s not long before our Christmas inspiration encounters the cold, procrastinating winter months, and we begin to question just how realistic our goals were.

I sound like the New Year Scrooge, casting a shadow of doubt over the resolution party. But, as with the festive alcohol, naughty nibbles, and gut-busting meals, we need to apply equal amounts of moderation to our plans for improvement.

Many countries across the globe have conducted research into the success of New Year resolutions. Some of the more optimistic findings come from a University in Pennsylvania, where 77% of their participants made it through the first week. 55% stuck with it for one month, and 40% squeezed their way through six months.

Introducing healthy changes is hard enough, but breaking bad habits can be extraordinarily difficult, sometimes impossible. An old Therapist used to say, “Change is a process, not an event, and each stage of that process is preparation for the next.” Unfortunately, I’ve never been very good at self-discipline. Add depression to the challenge and it’s not long before the mix becomes toxic with failure and self-doubt.

Battling with mental health problems can be a destructive journey for anyone. My own self-esteem tumbles to an all-time low and faith in any prospect of change becomes distant and weakened with time. Even though I plan and exercise different steps to recovery, it’s hard to maintain motivation, when depression zaps every ounce of strength to function on the bad days.

The advice offered by millions of google articles on how to stick to New Year resolutions, sound similar to the strategies I learned during the therapy programme. Be realistic. Be specific and be prepared to divide each target into smaller goals.

I used to make the same annual resolution of enrolling on a full-time Diploma or Degree course. Somehow, studying became a gauge to recovery. But, I would lose a little more faith at the start of each term time, when my name failed to appear on a college register.

The ‘college’ word hasn’t come up on this year’s ‘to–do’ list, although the smaller goals aspire to the same objective. Weekly support groups, trauma therapy, and short vocational courses, comprise a set of sub-goals that feel more solid and doable. This doesn’t mean the process won’t escape the usual apathy, or the prospect of failure. It doesn’t seem to matter how small the goal, most of us fear any kind of failure, even though we should be embracing it the most.

Failure forms a necessary part of the human experience. They encompass a wide array of wonders, from the miracle of a child’s conception, to every invention witnessed by humankind. Yet, despite witnessing a solid record of success, we still regard failure as the enemy.

Whenever plans take an unexpected nose-dive, I’m soon berating my good-for-nothing-abilities and interpret the minor setback as major defeat. I’m guilty of one-track thinking and fail to see that there are other options, sub-goals… stepping stones.
Sometimes it’s better to hold off on some of our aspirations, until we acquire a better position. This doesn’t necessarily signify procrastination. We’re still moving forward, advancing on the same objective, only from a different angle. One of the group Therapists once said, “We need to step back and ask ourselves what can be done differently… what will help to conquer the hurdles?”

One of the most intriguing articles on New Year resolutions appeared in last week’s Independent newspaper in the UK. Scientists behind a study claim that people were more likely to stick to their goals if they discard the statements and present them as questions instead. Apparently, a question creates a psychological response beneficial to willpower and self-discipline.

Wishing everyone a very Happy and Healthy New Year and many answered Questions!

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44 thoughts on “Resolutions & Stepping Stones

  1. Judy Martin

    Happy New Year to you too Cat. Have you tried some of the the Open University’s Future Learn courses? They are quite short, but really informative. I love them and have done a few from Writing a good CV to Identifying the Dead! 🙂

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thanks Judy. Are those free courses? Lately I’ve been looking at a free course with OU, ‘Descriptive writing’. Have you completed that one? Identifying the dead sounds intriguing. I think they would be a good start to gauging my commitment etc.

      In London, we have Recovery Colleges attached to some MH trusts. They are the pioneers and the service is spreading throughout the UK. The entire set up is run just like a college with a prospectus of dozens of short courses geared towards recovering from MH. I did Mindfulness last year, ‘Telling your story’ and ‘Five ways to wellbeing.’ They’re a great resource for supporting someone back to life.

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      1. Judy Martin

        They are all free and some of them are about 4-6 weeks long on average. You go at your own pace though, and can choose whether or not you want to interact with others on the course. I love the sound of those MH courses. I am sure they are really beneficial.

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  2. Priceless Joy

    This is so true Cat. Generally, at New Years we have lofty aspirations and most of us always fall short. I quit making new year’s resolutions because of that. I got tired of disappointing myself. I wish you a very happy and healthy Year 2016!

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  3. thehumanhurricane

    New year smooooo year. Why bother? Jan and Feb are the most depressing months on any calendar in the Northern Hemisphere. Downer after the festivities, the arse-end of the year weather wise with feck-all to look forward to; and that’s when people choose to kill themselves at the gym, cut out alcohol and eat limp-dick iceberg lettuce in a vain attempt to be better versions of themselves.

    Maybe it’s all the superficial notions that need sweeping aside and maybe it’s something deeper we should attend to like making time for people or acts of kindness.

    Xxx

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    1. Cat Post author

      This is the worst time of year. Personally, January is usually a month of nothingness and I don’t feel guilty about it. It takes all my strength just to breath sometimes. Um I’ve never heard of limp-dick lettuce… sounds lovely! I’ll stick to my donuts! Thank you

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  4. Ellen

    I don’t bother with New Year’s resolutions. I always want to heal – I don’t need a resolution for that. The only exception is this year, I think I’m resolving to start making efforts again to find at least one more friend. Meaning I have to go to things where there are people. But other than that – it’s chocolate and wine for me. I’m pretty fantastic already, I figure. 🙂

    Happy New Year to you Cat.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Healing is as good an aspiration as any. I don’t usually make resolutions either, but this year I might need to push myself a little harder, so maybe a couple of goals won’t go amiss. I hope you meet a nice new friend to share the choc and wine 🙂 Thanks, Ellen

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    1. Mandy

      Certificates or degrees, Cat. Now I’m trying to choose one thing at a time- so one class instead of a whole degree? One resolution instead of a list of them- I’m going to try yoga. I think goals (resolutions?) are an important part of moving forward. It’s the learning not to self sabotage by going overboard 😳

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      1. Cat Post author

        Sticking to one goal is more realistic and yoga sounds just perfect. I did a mindfulness course last year (or was it two years?). Within your one goal there are many sub-goals; getting outdoors, travelling, and meeting new people etc… quite a lot to keep you busy. I try not to commit to much during January. It’s the month of nothingness and that way saves a helluva lot of disappointment. Thanks, Mandy

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  5. Glynis Jolly

    I’m inclined to agree that study is right. Then, instead of the aim of the year being to fulfill the accuracy of the statement, you’re exploring during the year to find the answer to the question. No intimidation involved. If there is one time I fold and hide an instance, it’s when I feel intimidated. It would probably work with the minor goal steps too, I would think.

    Still, when I think about this ritual of making goals at the beginning of the calendar year, it just seems ludicrous. Why do people wait until then? Why don’t people strive for those goals when the idea enters their thoughts?

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    1. Cat Post author

      I liked what the article suggests. I made my resolutions in Nov and cancelled out January, as it’s always a difficult month and not too good for pushing the comfort boundaries. Thanks Glynis

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  6. Susan Irene Fox

    Cat, usually in January I take some time to look back at all the ways I have matured the previous year. I look through last year’s journal to see how far I’ve come, the prayers that have been answered and the blessings I have.

    This year, someone suggested using a clear jar. Every time I get a blessing or something positive happens, write it down on a small piece of paper and place it in the jar. At the end of the year (or in January of next year) I can take out all those pieces of paper and review them when I’m feeling depressed. A much easier way to see the growth process year by year.

    Happy New Year, Cat. May you receive and see many blessings this year. ❤

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Susan, that sounds a lovely way to spend January and a jar of blessing would certainly help you to reflect on the past year. Thank you, Susan, I hope you have a wonderful year

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  7. D. Wallace Peach

    Ah, those resolutions. I went easy on myself this year, Cat. Some of my resolutions are a piece of cake and it’s a bit of cheating to even put them out there – (Today I will pat the cat). Others are things I really enjoy doing, so it’s more about granting myself the time than a problem with motivation. I think you are right that we are often overly ambitious and can’t achieve our lofty aspirations. I don’t see it as a failure but as a time for gentle revision. No doubt I’ll succumb to a spate of laziness (or busy-ness) at some point during 2016. For most of us, life just doesn’t work according to lists and plans, not every day, and that’s perfectly okay in my book. Having goals keeps our eyes on the target, but shouldn’t be another way to beat ourselves up. All in due time.

    By the way, you sound good. I hope the year has kicked off well. Your writing is exceptional as always, and I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my own resolution hiccups that are going to occur. It’s all good, all human being stuff 🙂

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  8. dgkaye

    Wishing you peace and happiness for the new year Cat. We all break rules and resolutions at one time or another, and nobody has mastered the craft of not beating ourselves up when we fail to accomplish we set out to do. It’s human nature. We all have to stop taking these setbacks so personal. 🙂

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  9. Pingback: Resolutions & Stepping Stones – sarahhowardjonesblog

  10. RisingSong

    Yeah, I had stopped making New Years resolutions too. I figured I didn’t need to inflict myself with yet another reason to feel disappointed…but this year I decided that I would try to write every day. It’s something that I had been trying to do anyway and I knew would be good for me in soooooo many different ways.

    I didn’t call it a resolution, but I thought that if someone asked, that’s what I would say. Well, it is now March and of course I haven’t written every day, but I sure have written a lot more than when I wasn’t trying to write every day…and when I don’t write, I forgive myself and start over the next day. And I count EVERYTING – a blog post, a journal entry, a letter to my brother, a note to a teacher or a friend, even this response to your post.

    I guess what I mean to say is to forgive yourself daily and count all the little things. Happy March 🙂

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  11. Cate Reddell

    Hi Cat, I admit that I can’t even read the whole of your post. Concentration is beyond me, but I noticed that I hadn’t seen you around so popped in to see how you were doing. I’m sorry that you’re struggling. I hope you can be good to yourself despite the headspace. Take good care.

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      1. RisingSong

        Wow! You’re back, Cat! This is so wonderful! I have often come here to seek comfort from your writing, and it’s been so sad not to see you here over the past year. I’m sorry that you are having a tough time with your meds right now. I do hope things improve for you. Unfortunately, I had to stop writing in my blog also (not by my choosing). I really miss it, but I still go around to others’ blogs to see how everyone is doing. Take care of yourself. I’ll check back 😉

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  12. cssssswv

    Cat, what happened to you? – I sincerely hope that you are doing well… I’ve had a difficult year to say the least, and many times I wondered if I’d inadvertently dropped off your site? OR did you actually quit writing Suddenly? I apologize that it’s truly taken me a whole YEAR to look you up! Yet I still do think of you often and want to tell you how many times your words have helped me with my track, even though I didn’t often comment for myself. Certainly wishing you the very very best (and hope to find you on some other blog? )

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hey! Thanks for thinking of me. Yes, I did stop writing suddenly and my memory is so bad, I can’t even remember the last post I wrote. Just about to have a look. Hope you’re well

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  13. Charity Burke

    Hello Cat,

    It’s been a year since you’ve written and I’m hoping you’re fine.

    I finally found a therapist and started weekly sessions with her this past May. It took me three years to find a secular one. She is helping me deal with many years of PTSD with my parents (in my dealings with them as a child and an adult), medical/physical trauma and RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome). We talk an awful lot and she occasionally uses EMDR.

    How are you? Is everything okay? I hope that you’re alright. Please let us know what’s going on if you should find some time. I wish you all the best in your life and in your health and home. I care about you, Cat. You’re such a great person!

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Charity, what a coincidence. Today is the first I’ve logged on in a very looooongtime. I’m so glad to read you’ve found a good Therapist and I hope that continues to be fruitful. Therapy is very difficult, but….
      I’m doing okay, well, not so great, really. I’m having a sticky time and reducing heavy meds is bound to take its toll.

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      1. Charity Burke

        I understand the need to reduce powerful meds, but I also understand that the withdrawal isn’t pleasant. I hated Effexor and as bad as it was to quit cold turkey, it was still better than remaining on it. Those three months of taking them is like a big hole in my memory. My oldest started Kindergarten in that time frame and I remember nothing about his first couple of months of school. I was a damn zombie on those things. I mentioned this to my therapist recently and she basically said they can be garbage. I told her that my primary at the time was a nurse practitioner at the base (my husband was still in the military). I went to her for a referral for a doctor to help me with my extreme female issues. Two of the things she did in response was prescribe me Effexor and told me I needed to find a good Sunday school class. Even as a Christian, I found her advice flippant.

        I love my therapist. I’ve seen her on a weekly basis since last May. She uses EMDR and CBT. She’s incredibly non-judgmental and very helpful. She’s a lifelong secularist and that alone often makes me comfortable in sharing the religious stuff with her. It took me three years of intense research to find her. Although it’s unethical for a therapist to push their faith here in the States, many of them still do it. They have prayers and crosses posted on their walls or on their desks. They’ll ask to pray with you, etc. Being that I’m dealing with all sorts of trauma: medical/physical and PTSD with my parents as a child and as an adult, religious trauma is at the top of the list and is weaved throughout all of my other traumas. That’s why it took me so long to find a therapist. Obviously, a religious therapist couldn’t help me with RTS.

        I do miss you. I am concerned about you. I’m so incredibly sorry for not commenting sooner. Between Christmas 2015 and now, my husband and I have had two surgeries each. Our youngest is sick often and lately our oldest had a horrible bout with Cdiff. I’m not trying to make excuses, but as you can imagine, this has stirred up medical trauma for me some. I’ve been busy, but I still think about you. You’re not alone, Cat. I wish nothing but the best of physical, mental and emotional health for you. You’re a great person. Please don’t second guess that. Your transparency to share your experiences kept me encouraged to get help for my mental health, as well as for my physical needs. You are an encouragement. Your life matters to me. I thank you so much for your blog!

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