By Dr. Joti Samra, CEO & Founder of the Psychological Health & Safety (PH&S) Clinic and MyWorkplaceHealth
New Year’s always makes me anxious. All this talk of resolutions, starting fresh and getting everything done – why? Between problems with my marriage, children and work, I know I have a lot to figure out – but New Year’s just gives everyone I know a chance to ask insensitive questions about how am I going to change things in the next 365 days. How do I make it stop?
Any time we have a strong emotional reaction to a situation, we should ask ourselves two key questions: Is my reaction accurate, realistic or appropriate given the situation? And if the intensity of the reaction seems mismatched to the situation, what is it that I am truly reacting to?
The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is a common one across the world. The new year, for many people across cultures and societies, represents a new start and new beginning. Virtually all people have rituals and traditions to celebrate the onset of a new year.
So why has the tradition of resolutions been adopted and why has it stuck in so many parts of the world? What resolutions provide are an opportunity to reflect on the past and think about improvements one wants to make to their life. They symbolize a commitment to achieve personal goals, complete projects or break bad habits. Time and time again, the most common resolutions relate to diet, weight, smoking or substance use.
Are resolutions themselves indicative of anything? If you look at the statistics, the answer is no. I came across one study that indicated 94 per cent of people forget what their resolution is by July! So why do people continue to make them? I think it really comes down to a light and fun tradition that ultimately reflects our wishes and hopes for positive future changes. I believe that all of us are fundamentally works in progress, and an important part of our personal journey involves identifying – and makes changes to – areas of our lives we are less than satisfied with.
Your reaction, however, seems to represent something starkly different from a light, fun way to reflect on change. You indicate you have problems in important parts of your life, that you have a lot to figure out. Your perception of insensitivity seems to be a projection of the dissatisfaction you have with your life more than anything else.
I would encourage you to spend some time thinking about why you are having such an intense reaction. It sounds like you are frustrated with life situations you may feel you have little to no control over. Ask yourself what changes you may want to make in your life, and what your perceived barriers are to making those changes.
Maybe you aren’t in a position where you are able or wanting to make the changes you need, which is a perfectly acceptable. However, your dissatisfaction has very little to do with the question-askers.
The answer to your question of how to make it stop is a simple one: You can’t stop others’ questions. Period. You can, however, abort the conversation with a simple, lightly delivered line: “I don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions. What are yours?”
Excerpted from Dr. Joti Samra’s “Ask the Psychologist” weekly column in The Globe and Mail.
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