Avoiding the ‘Expectation Hangover’: A New Year Doesn’t Always Mean A New You

Each time a new year rolls around, there’s seemingly endless talk about resolutions—why you should make them and why you shouldn’t, which ones are pointless, how to modify them to make them last, etc. While the road to self-improvement is definitely one paved with positive intentions, trying to fix everything in your life that you’re unhappy about all at once can lead to burning out and feeling disappointed.

Gen-Y expert, Christine Hassler, coined the term “expectation hangover,” which she defines as the “group of undesirable feelings that arise when a desired result isn’t met,” a fitting way to describe the overwhelming feeling of stress that New Year’s resolutions put on so many of us.

How can we avoid setting ourselves up for expectation hangovers while still working toward beneficial changes in our lives? Being honest with ourselves allows us to set realistic goals and to reflect on where we are and where we want to be. While considering changes that we want to make and the things that we want to accomplish in the next 365 days, we can’t discount the things that we did change and accomplish in the past 365 days. No year is all good or all bad, and it’s important to remember that while the valleys tend to stand out when we think back, there were most likely a lot of peaks, as well.

Another helpful thing to remember is that a new year doesn’t always have to mean a “new you,” despite what the magazines in the supermarket check-out try to tell us. While we all have things that we can work on, it’s more than okay to be happy with the person that you are. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to dwell on the reasons that we don’t like ourselves than to celebrate the reasons that we do —another reason why the pressure of New Year’s resolutions isn’t worth the stress. Trying to set things in stone makes it harder to accept when life alters our path, which is bound to happen. Instead, we need to focus on trying our best and adjusting our expectations as needed.

While it’s important to keep our highest aspirations in mind and to stay on the path to achieving them, we sometimes need to redefine success. If you’ve always wanted to run a marathon but don’t feel ready, why not try for a half? Or if it’s your dream to write a novel, why not start with a short story? By setting little “starter” goals, or giving yourself checkpoints of sorts, you’ll feel even better about yourself when you do accomplish those huge life goals.

Another important thing to remember is that not everything you want to become can be accomplished in just 365 days. I’m not saying that we should think more poorly of ourselves, but sometimes having more realistic expectations makes it easier to appreciate the little things and celebrate small victories.

At the end of the day, resolutions are really just promises to ourselves to do better. In an effort to be patient with ourselves, maybe we can start this year off by shifting from “I promise” to “I will do my best” statements. The pressure to take a bite of sauerkraut and make empty promises to ourselves every January 1 comes from society. If instead, we each make a set of guidelines that feels like a comfortable fit for us, we don’t have to fall prey to being overwhelmed and inevitably disappointed.

So, here’s to 2015. Here’s to doing our best, being gentle with ourselves, taking small steps, and remembering that life isn’t a race to be the best. No matter what your goals are for the new year (or for your life, for that matter!), trust that you have it within you to accomplish them in a way and on a timeline that is right for you.

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