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Adulting 101: Should we still be setting new year's resolutions?

SINGAPORE — It's that time of the year again, when everyone reflects on the year that has passed and sets goals for the new year. 

Adulting 101: Should we still be setting new year's resolutions?

TODAY senior journalist Janice Lim says she would press on with her quest for a healthier diet as a long-term objective with no end-date.

Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.

In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.

SINGAPORE — It's that time of the year again, when everyone reflects on the year that has passed and sets goals for the new year. 

But I am not in the habit of setting new year's resolutions. 

I probably did set some targets for a few new years when I was younger, but it was more because it seemed like a trendy thing to do.

In any case, I hardly fulfilled any of the resolutions I set out to achieve.

I remembered feeling that they entailed too much effort and were impossible to keep.

And so, I largely abandoned them before the year was even over, and eventually, the memory of making such goals also faded away. 

I guess that's why I don't really see the point of setting new year's resolutions. I have also wondered why people place so much significance on Jan 1 as the date to pursue self-improvement. 

That's not to say that I have given up on the pursuit of becoming a better version of myself. 

But, instead of deciding to do so at the start of a new year, I feel that any day of the year is an opportunity to do that.  

And instead of setting big goals, I focus on making tiny adjustments throughout the year. 

That's generally the approach I take towards resolutions.

It seems I'm not alone.

SETTING REALISTIC, SPECIFIC GOALS  

Dr John Lim, chief well-being officer at the Singapore Counselling Centre, said goal-setting itself is not a bad thing. 

But there is a need to focus on setting realistic, achievable goals, and to update them regularly as the year goes along. 

"This enables us to adopt new year's resolutions as a practice that increases our feelings of self-efficacy and well-being, rather than avoiding it for fear of missing our target," he said. 

Committing to unrealistic expectations can also result in disappointment and demotivation, which could have an impact on people's self-esteem and affect their mental health, he warned. 

"At the end of the day, goals should work for us.

"We should not feel enslaved to the goals we’ve set at the start of the year. Should we find ourselves feeling discouraged and defeated, perhaps it is time to relook our goals and set ones that are achievable," said Dr Lim. 

So how should we go about making these changes in a sustainable way? 

Mr Cho Ming Xiu, founder of Campus Psy, a mental health organisation catering to young people, gave me an acronym that is easy to remember: Smart.

It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timeline. 

He recommended first breaking down ambitious goals into smaller, simple steps.

Setting a timeline to achieving these tiny goals, which would eventually culminate in the long-term objective, would also be helpful.

So, instead of setting a goal of "wanting to be healthier", individuals could spell out the exact days of the week they want to exercise or eat healthy meals. 

I have been trying to eat healthier for the past year — a lifestyle shift I realised I needed after facing some minor health issues.

It was a moment of reckoning as I felt, for the first time ever, the side effects of consuming too much junk food.

It looked as though age had finally caught up with me. 

Given that I have an insatiable sweet tooth, I knew that I could not survive cutting out sugary treats completely.

So I opted to cut back on such food items and asked for less sugar when I ordered sweet drinks. 

Unfortunately, I have also had to reduce the number of times I drink Coke to maybe once a week or once in two weeks. I used to drink the carbonated beverage almost daily.

Learning to manage one's expectations is also important, said Mr Cho.

This is especially so in our social-media-driven world, where people, especially the young, might end up craving instant gratification when they see others on these platforms reaching their targets and doing well. 

"But they don't see the behind-the-scenes work their friends have been putting in," he said. 

Dr Lim also said that having a friend or family member walk the same journey could help increase one's commitment towards achieving the targets.

This reminded me of how two friends and I made a pact a few years ago, where we agreed not to buy more than five pieces of clothing that year in an attempt to be more environmentally friendly.

The first person who bought more than five would treat the rest to a meal.

I can't remember how long we stuck to the agreement for, but we tried.

One of my friends caved in eventually and ended up treating us to a meal. The competitive element made the process really fun.

Even so, we kept bemoaning the restrictions on our clothing purchases and questioning why we got ourselves into that situation in the first place.

Which brings me to my next point. 

Making these lifestyle or routine changes is not easy. It's not one-off and is an endeavour that warrants commitment. 

So what happens on days when we spiral back into some of our old habits? 

I can't count the number of times in the past year when I ordered fast-food delivery because I was too lazy to cook or simply craving Coke.

Mr Cho said it's perfectly normal for that to happen and we shouldn't beat ourselves up over it. 

"Unless you are a machine. But all of us are human... From time to time, you need to fail," he said. 

He said Singaporeans can afford to be more accepting of failures, and practise more self-love and self-compassion when we do have such days. 

One way to reconcile whatever guilt we might be feeling, said Mr Cho, is to focus on the long-term goal instead of that one day of slip-ups. 

Dr Lim reminded me, too, that breaking bad habits and improving ourselves are not linear processes.

"There will be successful days and unsuccessful ones, and there is no need to be too hard on ourselves on days we regress.

"What is more critical is whether we learn from our failures — having increased awareness of the triggers that cause us to backslide, and trying out ways to avoid those triggers and overcome them, instead of giving up entirely on our goals," he said. 

One reason I sometimes fall back into my bad habits, I figured, is that I am not a big fan of cooking. The thought of spending time preparing the ingredients and cooking them pushes me to opt for the unhealthy option on some days. 

So I have started preparing meals in advance on weekends now and then as a way of getting around this. 

I know that I would still fall short in my quest for a healthier diet. 

But it's a long-term objective for me that has no end-date.

And I will keep trying, while making tiny adjustments along the way. 

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Janice Lim, 33, is a senior journalist at TODAY, where she covers business, housing, transport and sports. 

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Adulting 101 Youth new year's resolutions health

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