New year, new you.
That’s what everyone says, right? New Year’s is a time for resolutions, for new beginnings, for inventing ourselves. We tell ourselves that this year will be better, that we’ll finally eat clean/go to the gym/call our parents every week/quit our job/write a novel etc. You know, those things that always seem not quite reachable, but not quite unreachable either.
How about this year, I’ll finally be mentally healthy?
By making it a goal instead of a resolution, by breaking it down and taking small, actionable steps towards it, you can achieve mental health by making it a goal (and a priority).
My Passion Planner honestly changed my life by showing me the power of setting a goal and asking yourself how you can get there. I didn’t think it could be applied to mental health, but it can. I’ve combined the techniques I’ve learned with my Passion Planner with my personal experience and techniques that experts in habits, change, and self-improvement have advocated, into seven simple steps that you can use to improve your health (or help you reach any goal you want):
Where are you now? Why aren’t you mentally healthy? What factors are influencing you and how?
For example, the fall of last year, I was struggling with an eating disorder. I’d asked myself, “Why is this happening to me?” multiple times, but I realized that that was the wrong question to ask. Instead, I began to ask myself, “Why do I feel like bingeing? Why do I feel like restricting? Why do I feel the need to exercise and feel guilt when I don’t? Why do I feel like I don’t deserve to eat?”
Because, you see, the eating disorder was symptom of a bigger problem. It wasn’t because I hated the way I looked; that was also a symptom. It was because I felt stuck in my life; I felt like I had no control over my situation. I was stressed out, overworked, and not sleeping enough. The only area where I had felt like I had control was my eating, and I used that as an outlet.
2. Write out your goal.
On paper, in pen. No erasing, no shame. It’s ok to not be ok - tell yourself that.
It took an immense amount of bravery for me to write this out: “My game-changer: to be mentally and physically healthy by 4/31/2016.”
I felt wary of someone looking over my shoulder; I hoped no one would ever read this. Because it meant admitting to myself that no, I wasn’t ok. But at the same time, it was telling myself that hey, you’re going to make things better.
3. Break it down.
How are you going to get there?
This is the hard part. You’re taking something that’s pretty intangible (“be healthy”) and writing concrete, specific mini-goals to help you get there.
So if you know that not getting enough sleep stresses you out, makes you more irritable or depressed, and more prone to disordered eating, you might make it a goal to sleep at least 8 hours a night. But then you can break it down even further and create a habit.
Example: If you need to be up by 6:30 am every morning, then you need to be asleep by at least 10:30 pm every night. You can set an alarm for 10 pm every night for you to start getting ready for bed and make it a goal to get in bed by 10:15 pm, giving you 15 minutes to unwind.
4. Check in with yourself and adjust.
How is your progress with your mini-goals? What’s working and what isn’t, and why?
You’ll find that some mini-goals are unreasonable with your lifestyle. If your goal is meal prepping for the week every Sunday but you find that this stresses you out more, then maybe your goal is to buy groceries that can easily be made into various meals. If your goal is to spend time on self care activities for an hour every day but that’s not realistic for how busy you are, maybe you change that to 15 minutes.
5. Don’t let small setbacks get you down.
Hey, life happens. Whether that’s having a bad week or having a bad month, the key is telling yourself that this will pass. It’s telling yourself that tomorrow is a new day and you can still get back on track - not everything is lost. Everyone gets in a slump sometimes; try and give yourself reminders that you can and you will get to your goal.
6. Congratulate yourself on reaching your goal.
I found that reaching my goal was a lot quicker than I’d thought. By February, I had stopped bingeing almost altogether. By March, I was healthier and happier than I’d been since last March. By the time April 31st rolled around, I had already been mentally and physically healthy for over a month.
7. Maintain your improved state and make it the new normal.
Again, it’s important to reflect and see what habits you’ve built that have allowed you to get there, and to keep up those habits. That’s how you maintain this improved state you’re now in.
Good luck and be brave. Here’s to a better 2017 for you and your goals!
Written by Nancy Chen