Although New Years is often thought of as a time of hope and possibility, it can also be a time of stress. For people who have been feeling stuck, the renewing of the calendar can cause feelings of being “left behind”—as though time is marching on but somehow nothing new is happening. For my patients who are in a rut at this time of year I often suggest doing a “mental reset.” I have found that by getting people to reconsider their habits, time, and relationships they are often more ready to face the New Year than people who just make New Year’s resolutions, which, almost never work.
Here are three simple strategies to perform a “mental reset”
1. Make a Habit “Hit List”
We all naturally develop patterns and routines so life can feel orderly. However, some of our habits— like exercising or brushing our teeth— can serve us in the long term, but others— like binge watching Netflix, or intensive ‘retail therapy’ might feel good in the moment, but can contribute to feeling stuck. If this sounds familiar to you, try printing out a blank calendar for a week and writing down a list of just about everything you do. At the end of the week, do a ‘habit check.’ Circle all of the behaviors that you do over and over again. Any habits that seem like they just a waste of time and not helping you to move forward should be on your “hit list” for the New Year. Challenge yourself to spend half as much time on those habits over the course of a month, and then half again over the next month.
2. Discover More Time
Time is your most valuable commodity. With enough time (and effort) you can do just about anything. By studying how we spend our time we can often discover new ways to use it more effectively. Pick up that calendar that you used for the Habit Hit List and look for opportunities where you can squeeze in some important activities that you never seem to get around to. If you take an hour lunch break, try cutting it to 40 minutes. Use the rest of the time to finish that quilting project, or research new career possibilities. A few spare minutes are all you need to do those things that tend to get pushed off for later.
3. Do a Relationship Re-alignment
Healthy relationships are essential to a good life. The New Year is a great time to re-align your relationships. None of us wants to see friends and family as having a negative influence on our lives, but if you have people in your orbit who are holding you back from being truly happy and fulfilled, you need to take a hard look at how much time you spend with them. Go back to your weekly calendar and look at how much time you spent with friends, family, and acquaintances.
Ask yourself: Do I really want to use two hours of my week to listen to a co-worker who just talks about herself? Did I really only spend 11 minutes with my sister who I adore? Remember: You can’t force or expect your friends and family to change, but you can make better choices about who you choose to let into your life.
If you are thoughtful and honest about performing this “mental reset,” you will almost certainly find that you have more time and energy for doing the things that bring you joy, like spending time with people you love and living your best life. And that’s what its all about.
Dr. Ben Michaelis is a clinical psychologist in full-time private practice in Manhattan and is a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University. Dr. Michaelis writes, speaks regularly about mental health, creativity, taking action and helping people to get 'unstuck;' He is the author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy.