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The start of the new year is so often characterised by resolutions and new beginnings. In this year, more than any other, social media is full of images saying good-bye to 2020 and encouraging us to write off the whole year and concentrate on the bright future around the corner- 2021. But as you’ve probably realised over the last weeks as the UK and other countries re-enter lengthy lockdowns, it’s still far from life as ‘normal’.

As well as the new year, new lockdowns can prompt us to set ourselves unrealistic goals and resolutions. And there is a fair chance that we could come down heavily on ourselves when we reflect and discover that we didn’t learn Spanish, complete our 50 daily press-ups or even put those shelves up when we had the time!

You may have heard of the phenomena of ‘toxic productivity’. Similar to workaholism, it’s when we develop a compulsion to be highly productive, but to a degree that ultimately negatively impacts our wellbeing. Signs of toxic productivity can emerge as feeling overly despondent when we aren’t meeting our (perhaps unreasonable) targets, struggling with restlessness or having difficulty relaxing, and even a deterioration in our close relationships.

So what can we do to manage this, and give ourselves the best chance of coming through the next few months with our mental health in-tact?

As we think about what we want to achieve in the year, it might be helpful to decide where we could be focusing on ‘intentions’ rather than ‘goals’.

When we are considering our professional development, breaking down our work ambitions using the well-known SMART formula (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) is a practical and helpful way to set our intentions. And certain things, such as the performance targets we have at work need to be defined as such.

However, when it comes to personal development, remember there is currently so much uncertainty in our world, that rigid targets of personal attainment can put undue pressure on ourselves.

Instead, consider these points to help you reframe those resolutions as personalised intentions:

  • Think about intentions in terms of ‘near and far’. This is about breaking things down into micro-steps. Recognise it could take working on a few intentions that are closer to home, before you can reach those that are further away.  
  • Visualise your intentions. What will it look like, be like, feel like? Can I see myself making it happen? If so, how?
  • Simplify and specify. Rather than just intending to ‘get fit’, you could simplify your intention by picking your method eg: running, and then specify how you are going to increase your running time by building up with five extra minutes every other week.
  • Finally, always celebrate small wins and show some self-compassion when you make mistakes or have lapses from your intentions.

As with most things, it’s about finding balance. A healthy level of pressure is helpful, without it, nothing changes (to read more about this head over to our Blog on ‘Eustress’). But when we put too much pressure on ourselves to be overly productive, we can become stressed. So go easy on yourself as we start the year, and maybe cut yourself some slack. Most of us our doing our best, most of the time.