New Year's Day

Why the Pressure to Set New Year's Resolutions Might Feel Greater Than Ever — and How to Combat It


The need to set big resolutions might feel more pressing than ever this New Year, but experts say it's important to take a step back before making any major life changes.

For many, it's felt like life has been on hold for nearly two years, as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions prevented people from making personal and professional plans.

In fact, three-quarters of people around the world feel "stuck" personally and professionally. That's according to a study of over 14,600 workers across 13 countries, by software firm Oracle and HR research firm Workplace Intelligence, which was published in October.

And while there continues to be a great deal of uncertainty, with information on the newest Covid omicron variant still emerging, there are some hopes that 2022 could look a little brighter.

This might tempt some to make drastic changes in the New Year, in an effort to make up for lost time.

Sandra McDermid, a life coach who runs her own practice, told CNBC via video call that there's a risk that in trying to accelerate change in our lives, we end up adopting a "frantic" or "grabby" energy.

In other words, she said, you "risk trying to do too much and not getting any of it."

"[You're] much more likely to end up disappointed because you're trying to grab everything, without any clear plan," she added.

So how do you avoid succumbing to that pressure, and feeling overwhelmed in the New Year?

Measurable steps

McDermid said she isn't a big believer in setting New Year's resolutions, mainly because of the way people approach them. Many tend to take a "hopeful" approach to achieving resolutions, she said, without actually having a plan and understanding the reason they set that goal in the first place.

She also said that people tend to set too many goals, are not specific enough with their plans, and don't factor in failure, meaning they give up when they break their resolutions.

McDermid recommends that before deciding whether to set a resolution, you should reflect on the past year, looking at what went right and what went wrong.

If you decide to go ahead, McDermid recommended picking one goal at a time and then breaking it down into measurable steps. For instance, she suggested, if you decide to get a new job, think about roughly how many interviews, job applications and hours you might spend looking at different roles, as doing so can help the brain break down that goal.

The "Great Resignation," which has seen swathes people quit or change jobs during the pandemic, is a clear reflection of the widespread feeling of restlessness over the past year.

A record high of 4.4 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs in September, according to data from the Labor Department. This figure fell slightly in October, to 4.16 million, but the number of job openings grew to over 11 million, meaning many people still aren't returning to the workforce.

And more are still planning to make the change. Nearly a quarter of U.K. workers are planning to move jobs within the next three to six months, according to a survey of more than 6,000 people taken by recruitment firm Randstad, published in November.

Rush for results

Nick Hatter, a life coach and author, told CNBC on a telephone call that it's important when setting life goals to make adjustments for setbacks along the way, particularly in light of uncertainty amid the pandemic.

In this sense, he said, it was also important to have self-compassion — acknowledge when some goals feel less achievable because of various life challenges, such as Covid public health restrictions.

"There are times when ... we're going to make slower progress than we'd like and I think that's an inevitable part of life, it's not just with the coronavirus," he said.

Hatter pointed out that there can be a tendency to try to rush for results with our goals, as has been seen in dieting and gym culture. However, he argued that for many this is simply not sustainable, and it's actually better to aim for slower progress.  

Similarly, life coach Oliver Jones told CNBC that setting a resolution doesn't usually work if someone is feeling pressured to do so, as is often the case in the New Year.

"It's a tradition, but people find it annoying because they're being pressurized in order to come up with something," he said, although he did add that the prospect of a "clean slate" in the New Year can help people stay motivated.

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