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Dr. Phil and Dr. John Whyte Recommend Starting the Year With Self-Reflection

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January 11, 2021
From the WebMD Archives

by Dr. Phil McGraw and Dr. John Whyte

We can best describe 2020 with two Latin words: “annus horribilis” -- horrible year.  We were all glad when it was finally over. 

Now that we’ve crossed the threshold into 2021, many of us might feel compelled to set up “new year, new you” goals like losing 20 pounds, saving more money, volunteering, or learning another language. But these types of resolutions have proven to just set us up for failure. In fact, a whopping 92% of us break them by mid-February. These pithy goals sound high minded, but they backfire; we end up feeling worse about ourselves when we don’t achieve them. And more to the point, these resolutions don’t represent the type of self-care that many of us currently need.

Anxiety, stress, and depression are at an all-time high. We don’t want you to exacerbate this with resolutions guaranteed to sabotage your self-esteem. Failure to attain is not your fault. It is because you relied on willpower, which may be great in the short term, but for sustaining long-term commitments it is the wrong fuel. This mythical, elusive willpower is emotionally based, subject to changes in mood and given to distraction and competing priorities across time.

Instead of making goals, think about focusing more on your priorities for 2021. The harsh reality is that 2021 is still going to be dominated by COVID-19 restrictions for at least the first few months. To meet the challenges they create, you need to program yourself for success. You don’t do this by writing down lofty goals but rather by first determining what you can carry forward from this year and what you can leave behind. Then set up your environment, your schedule, who you chose to spend time with, even your internal dialogue all to support those priorities. Thoughtful, positive programming! It’s much more reliable than willpower, which comes and goes as emotions change. The key is to set your world up to support your priorities when you don’t feel like it. It’s easy when you do!

Start by taking a couple hours and do a personal inventory. Be sure to write it down. Don’t just do it in your head. Assess not just what you want to work on but also your strengths and personal assets. All too often, we can instantly rattle off 10 things we need to improve about ourselves yet struggle to articulate even one or two things we do well. You need to flip that. Instead, focus on your positives.  What are you happy about? What are you grateful for? In times of stress, it often is easier to dwell on what you don’t have and are missing instead of appreciating what you do have. Research shows that finding gratitude, even the day to-day things that seem small -- a chat with a friend, a great cup of coffee, a quiet walk -- can inspire a sense of well-being if we remind ourselves of them and reflect on them at the end of the day. 

That positivity can help us move forward through challenges while also motivating us to make meaningful changes that can support us, whether physical or emotionally-based. When we’re grounded, we are also in a better position to know what we need and how we can ask for support from the people we live with. Maybe you need help with household responsibilities and child care; maybe you need to carve out 30 minutes of alone time that is honored, both by you and your partner.

As you begin this new year, acknowledge that putting greater pressure on yourself with outmoded approaches to resolutions is very “last year.”  You survived 2020, and it’s time to turn a new page and view the changes you want to make through a new lens.


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