Want to be happier this year? Mental health experts share their resolutions for a less-divisive, healthier 2020
17 therapists share their New Year’s resolutions — and how they’ll make them stick.
It’s that time of year, aka, the start of a new one, when we assess areas of our life we’d like to improve and determine to make a change. Of course, we’re talking about New Year’s resolutions, a tradition that tends to get a bit of a bad rap because such promises to ourselves can be difficult to keep.
NBC News BETTER has previously consulted psychologists to learn how we can best align with our New Year resolutions, highlighting tactics such as utilizing your brain’s reward system, eliminating environmental triggers and getting social support. This year, we’re taking a more personal approach by talking with over a dozen therapists to learn what resolutions they’re setting for 2020, and how they intend to stick to them.
Here’s what they shared. I recommend breaking out a box of tissues along with that champagne; these goals get deep!
1. Find moments of peace daily — and consider a ‘resolution’ buddy
“My resolution is to look for ways to be less busy overall, but also less busy within each day,” says Mary Rourke, a psychologist and the Director of Widener University’s Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology. “I am aiming to slow down, be more intentional in every moment, and try to find moments of peace in each day. These are things I recommend often to clients, and things I strive to do myself (when I stop to think about it). My resolution is to build in ways each day to stop and think about it, and hopefully do it more consistently. Not sure yet how I will stick to this resolution — I am considering enlisting the help of a ‘resolution buddy’ — someone who shares my goal and with whom I can have regular brief check-ins to discuss how we are both doing.”
2. Pursue joy over happiness
“I have two resolutions for the new year,” says Monte Drenner, a licensed mental health counselor. “First, pursue being joyful over being happy. This goal is important because joy is a constant delight whereas happy is brief and circumstantial. The second goal is to be more content which is continual satisfaction rather than getting my emotional state from my surroundings. [My resolutions] are related, which will help me be successful. My desire is for my emotional state to be dictated by more meaningful things in life rather than the momentary annoyances. Growth in one area will help dictate growth in the other. I plan on sticking to them by meditating on them daily as well as directing my reading and listening materials towards these topics.”
3. Treat time like money — on a budget
“The way I budget my money will be the outline on how I budget my time,” says Shannon Battle, a licensed professional counselor. “I can always make more money but I can’t make more time. You either maximize it or lose it. If you invested in your education you made sacrifices that deserve to be remunerated. Next time somebody wants to pick your brain send them an appointment, invite with an invoice attached.”
4. Be mindful of media consumption
“While I do a good job on carefully selecting food and relationships that nurture me, I can definitely improve the quality of the media allowed into my psyche,” says Paul L. Hokemeyer, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Since the 2016 election, I have been pulled into the hostility, vulgarity and division that has come to define American politics. This consumption has left me feeling anxious, depressed, angry and at times plagued by fear. Moving forward, I’m resolving to only consume media that supports the narrative of empathy, compassion and understanding — traits that we need more of in our individual psyches, our relationships, our families and our country.”
5. Become aware of resistance to change
“I don’t make New Year’s resolutions to do something new; however, the New Year does offer me an opportunity to let go of what no longer serves me,” says Dr. James S. Gordon, MD, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Mind-Body Medicine. “This year, what I’d like to let go of is my resistance to change. How do I personally plan to stick with this? By paying attention. When I pay attention, I am aware of my resistance to change [experiencing]:
- A tightening in my body.
- A narrowing of my understanding.
- A tinge of defensiveness in my voice.
This awareness will help me contribute to the process of accepting change by simply using these symptoms of resistance as cues to relax and remember that change is in the order of nature.”
6. Practice more gratitude
“In this crazy, busy world, it seems far too easy to move onto what’s next on my to-do list without savoring what I’ve just completed,” says Sharon Saline, a psychologist. “I’m planning to write three good things about each day in my journal before bed so I can focus more on the positive and derive greater satisfaction from my days.
7. Learn new perspectives
“2019 has been such a year of division across the globe, so my resolution for 2020 is to try and bring back the empathy,” says Clinton Moore, a clinical psychologist. “The world is a more beautiful place when we connect, so my aim is to learn one new thing from one new person every week. That means 52 new ways of looking at the world by the time 2020 is done.”
8. Exercise your creative mind
“In the new year I would like to embrace creativity by doing at least one activity each week in which I create something — big or small,” says Rebecca B. Skolnick, licensed clinical psychologist. “Exercising the creative part of my brain helps me see things from different perspectives, process emotions, and generally feel calmer. I committed to this resolution by signing up for a series of watercolor classes, and I have a list of museum and gallery exhibits that I would like to attend for inspiration.”
9. Commit to stillness
“This year, I’m committing to 15 minutes of sitting in stillness a day,” says Amie Roe, a licensed clinical social worker. “Lately I’ve been wishing for more spaciousness in my life and I think this is an attainable way to create that for myself. I chose 15 minutes because that’s what feels manageable for me. I’m also going to grant myself tons of flexibility around how, where, and when in the day I sit in stillness. The more flexible and gracious I am with myself, the more successful I know I’ll be.”
10. Schedule self-care so it actually happens
“As a couple’s therapist and discernment counselor, I know that the transition to parenthood can be hard on a marriage. Which is why I’m really committing to myself and my marriage in the new year,” says Theresa Herring, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “I always tell my clients that if you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen. So, with my brand new 2020 planner, I am scheduling moms’ night outs with girlfriends, date nights (both going out and staying in!), and an exercise routine.”
11. Work smarter, not harder
“My New Year’s resolution is to ‘work smarter not harder’,” says Carrie Mead, a licensed clinical professional counselor. “I am continually working to create a healthy work-life balance. The reason for this is that I consistently work with people who feel the pressures and challenges associated with this imbalance and it’s prudent that I lead by example. To keep myself accountable to this goal, I set my schedule so that I have ample time for my clients, my family and myself. Including quiet time for myself is key to creating the harmony I crave. I have witnessed many clients forget this key component and they continue to struggle with stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and health issues despite their dedication to change. I schedule my self-care time the same way I schedule clients or date-nights; it goes on the calendar with everything else.”
12. Embrace play
“This year, I intend to focus on nurturing my sense of play and curiosity,” says Jo Eckler, a clinical psychologist. “Every week, if not every day, I will try something new, finding ways to laugh and/or play. As adults, we can become rigid in our thinking and feel that life is a boring treadmill. Play reminds us of who we truly are, who we’ve always been and gives us permission to be gloriously imperfect and have no idea what we’re doing.”
13. Continue to achieve work/family balance
“This year, I will continue to work on work/family boundaries,” says Lynn Zakeri, a licensed clinical social worker. I was impacted by Laura Vanderkam’s book, ‘I Know How She Does It’, which got me thinking about all I do in 168 hours a week. I really [love] my work, and I also really love my family. Each year I am better at managing the work/family balance but it is hard trying to ‘do it all’. I will continue to remind myself that doing it all is sometimes simply accepting the best I can do on a given day.”
14. Make time for nourishing friendships
“As a very busy clinician who talks to clients all day long, the last thing I want to do at the end of a long day is to chat with people,” says Rita Eichenstein, a therapist and neuropsychologist. “To that end, research shows the greatest level of health comes from those who have an active and nourishing group of friends. So, I’ve already made a list of those who are dear to me, or those who seem interesting. Instead of the usual ‘let’s meet for coffee’, I’m scheduling hiking, walking, museum browsing and beach walking together to deepen my friendships.”
15. Bring your dream project to life
“My New Year’s resolution is to average 500 words of writing, every weekday, until Thanksgiving,” says Jon Reeves, a clinical psychologist. “I have always wanted to write a book, but until now have not prioritized consistent writing. I’ll stick to it in three ways: (1) structuring the resolution as specific, concrete daily habits that accumulate towards the ultimate goal (a book); (2) making it flexible enough to miss a day and catch up by writing more the next day or on the weekends; and (3) scheduling an hour for writing every weekday on my calendar. At the end of the resolution, I’ll have about 118,000 words — enough for a book.”
16. Listen more, talk less
“My New Year’s resolution is to slow down and listen far more than I speak, at least a 2:1 ratio in my relationships with both clients and personal relationships,” says Brent Sweitzer, a licensed professional counselor. “It may seem like an odd thing for a therapist to say, given that’s a crucial part of their job, but I saw the new ‘Mr. Rogers’ movie recently and was so moved to see how the act of listening and being with another person led to such transformation. By listening attentively to another person, we convey our love to them. It helps them know that that unseen part of them is worthy of our attention.”
17. Work on healing everyday
“My New Year’s resolution is to do things every single day that foster healing and self care,” says Shari Botwin, a licensed clinical social worker. “I counsel people who are recovering from all types of trauma. I am also a childhood sexual abuse survivor. I need to work on taking the time I need for my own healing and continue to find balance as a therapist, mama and survivor. I’m going to take in the advice I give to my patients and work on giving myself more time to have fun and have more balance in my personal life.”