As we ring in the New Year, resolutions and chatter of self-improvement take center-stage. People often say things like “new year, new me,” and make promises to eat better, exercise more, read more, and make an overall effort to try harder. Often times, these resolutions quickly dissolve and lead to guilt or disappointment.
Although trying harder may intuitively make sense, what we need isn’t to try harder; we need to try smarter.
This post isn’t meant to dismiss New Year’s resolutions altogether; I am in complete support of self-improvement and endorse it willingly. However, instead of making unrealistic expectations and berating ourselves when we slip up, we should set attainable goals that will help us flourish. These attainable, realistic goals are smart goals.
But how do we attain smart goals? What does it mean to “try smarter”?
Making smart goals is a product of self-awareness as well as an understanding about where our strengths and weaknesses lie. From this awareness, we are able to craft specific goals for the areas that need improvement while being realistic about our abilities. When carrying out these goals, we must take with us a mindset that will help us attain them- this is the key to trying smarter. With this mindset, we can truly become our best selves.
The following 6 tips are ways that we can try smarter in the New Year so that we can flourish:
1. Get Started
One of the most challenging and most crucial aspects of achieving a goal is initiating it. When we are faced with a large task, we may feel too overwhelmed to act and may feel the need to push it off until later. Yes, getting started is easier said than done, but it is possible! So how can we make it easier for ourselves to act while also avoiding procrastination?
Rather than trying to tackle the entirety of a large task in one sitting, you can break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. For example, if your large task is getting into college, you may start by applying to one or two schools at a time. And, if that is still too daunting of a task, you can start by writing one paragraph of an essay at a time. Merely being able to start a smaller task may lead you to accomplish more than you had initially planned; you may start with one paragraph and find yourself an hour later with three!
Summary: Start in small increments.
Another way that we can avoid overwhelming ourselves is to approach one task at a time; this brings about the idea of compartmentalization.
Often times, there are many little things going on at once and we are forced to juggle them simultaneously. Whether it’s schoolwork, a slew of extracurriculars, family relations, sports, or a social life, we are expected to move in and out of the roles that we take on without becoming overwhelmed. To do this, we must be able to compartmentalize. This entails focusing on one task at a time without letting other stressors from the periphery cloud our focus.
For example, when you sit down to write an essay, try not to go through a massive “to-do” list in your head or think about the fight that you had with your best friend just moments ago. Instead, focus on the argument of your essay and each sentence that you write. Additionally, put your phone on “do not disturb” mode, drown out noises that may distract you, and keep a clean workspace. These small steps will help you achieve a deeper focus.
Overall, being able to compartmentalize will help ease feelings of stress and anxiety that accompany overwhelm, and will make tasks seem more manageable. Not only will compartmentalizing allow you to feel less stressed, but it will also allow you to achieve higher levels of productivity with a clear mind.
Summary: Focus on the task at hand, and only tackle one task at a time.
3. Listen to Your Mind & Body
Trying smarter doesn’t mean that you have to be extremely productive all the time. There are times when it seems almost impossible to focus; you know that feeling when you read the same sentence ten times over and you still don’t know what it means? Your brain is trying to tell you that it’s tired!
Sometimes your mind and your body need a break, so listen to the internal cues that your body is sending you. Instead of trying to force yourself through a reading and then taking twice as long to get it done, allow your mind to recuperate. Take a few deep breaths. Step back. Meditate. By allowing yourself time to recharge, you’ll be more productive when you start again and will be likely to function more optimally. It’s okay to take breaks, so don’t feel guilty for doing so.
Summary: If you need a break, take a break. Take care of yourself.
4. Be Your Own Best Friend
Along the lines of self-care comes self-compassion. Treat yourself well by treating yourself the way you would treat a good friend. Be kind to yourself, build yourself up with positive self-talk, and set yourself up for success.
You have to spend every single moment of your existence with the person inside your head, so that relationship might as well be a good one. If you had to choose a person to spend all of your time with, would you rather spend it with a bully who constantly berates you or a friend who lifts you up when you’re down? Allow yourself to choose the friend.
Summary: Be kinder to yourself.
5. Learn to Let Go
Practicing self-compassion will not only make your lived experience much more pleasant, but it will also make it much easier for you to move on from your mistakes.
Everyone makes mistakes; this is how we learn and grow. So, learn to see the value in your faults and make an effort to do better next time. Although it may be hard, try to disconnect from negative thoughts that may be going through your mind. Once you hear a negative thought, a thought that usually sticks and causes you to ruminate on it, let it go. This is something that may be difficult at first but it gets easier with practice. It’s like training a muscle! Over time, you will not only feel more relaxed but more accepting of adversity when it comes.
Summary: Don’t be so hard on yourself; trust that you’re doing your best.
6. Build a Strong Support System
Lastly, one of the most important ways that you can try smarter is by building a strong support system. Surround yourself with people who make you feel loved, accepted, and who you feel comfortable with. These people will help you attain your goals and support your efforts while keeping your life fun and full. They will praise you when you succeed and pick you up when you’re down.
Sometimes we tend to see the world through the lens that we craft for ourselves; our thoughts may be tainted with preconceived notions or expectations. Our close friends and family members are able to see things more objectively, so accept their advice and take it to heart. They’re there to help you become your best self and want to see you thrive, so trust them.
Summary: Listen to your friends and family! They know you better than you think.
So, as you go into the New Year, take the time to figure out what works for you. If you had to picture the best version of yourself, what would that person look like? What drives them? What makes them feel fulfilled? What are their daily habits?
In your journey to becoming your best self, try to implement the tips that I’ve mentioned. Start small, compartmentalize, practice self-compassion, let go, and surround yourself with a strong support system. I hope that you’ll be able to try smarter and that 2018 will bring you peace, growth, and happiness!
The TeenzTalk blog is here to amplify teens' stories on topics including personal challenges, wellness strategies, initiatives in their community, passionate pursuits, & more.