If my absence from this blog is any indication, I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from my usual level of productivity over the past few months. Although it’s been necessary (due to unexpected “life happens” circumstances) I can’t help but feel guilty and overwhelmed as my to-do list keeps getting longer and longer. Thankfully, as it tends to do, life is once again regaining equilibrium. However, this means that, as 2018 lurks just around the corner, January carries high expectations for renewed efficiency. I have a feeling I'm not alone in this.
But getting back on track isn’t always easy. Whether it’s eating healthier after a holiday of eggnog and Christmas cookies, or starting that long overdue project after a month of too many Netflix binges, it can be challenging to break the cycle. If you’re setting New Years resolutions or just hoping to break some unhealthy habits come January, these three habits may be holding you back:
1. Playing the comparison game. Sometimes comparing ourselves to others can be motivating; a positive role model can inspire us to be better and do better. However continual social comparison – that is, comparing one’s accomplishments, looks, abilities, etc. to other people’s – can be discouraging and harmful. But, can we really wean ourselves from social comparison? In the 1950s, Leon Festinger argued that comparing ourselves to others is a human drive, much like the need to eat or drink (1). Furthermore, in a plugged-in culture, where we’re constantly updated about what others are doing, thinking, and feeling, stopping the comparison game may require backing off the social networking sites. This, in turn, may have important mental health implications. For example, a recent study with high school students found that the tendency to socially compare oneself on social networking sites predicted changes in depressive symptomology one year later (2).
2. Putting off until tomorrow what you could do today. Most of us procrastinate at least some of the time. Particularly when a task seems big and overwhelming, it can seem daunting to even know where to begin. So, psychology professor David Rosenbaum, suggests breaking it up. For example, writing just one or two sentences of that blog post can promote a sense of accomplishment, spurring momentum towards the final goal.
3. Choosing punishment over patience. Making changes requires patience, not punishment. Breaking old habits can be challenging and getting off track is part of being human. So be gentle with yourself, and don’t berate yourself for inevitable setbacks. Instead, allow yourself to experience frustration and disappointment, and then bounce back quickly by getting right back on the horse.
For today, as I sit today in the cozy comfort of a snowy December afternoon, I’m thankful that I can bask in some end-of-the-year-laziness for at least a few more days. But, when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, I’ll (hopefully) be ready to kick some of these old habits to the curb.
(1) Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7(2), 117-140.
(2) Nesi, J., & Prinstein, M. J. (2015). Using social media for social comparison and feedback-seeking: Gender and popularity moderate associations with depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43, 1427-1438.