The year is half over. Or half begun, depending where you fall on the optimism/pessimism scale. Give yourself a pat on the back for getting this far. As we know from 2020 and 2021, things could be a lot worse. But let's not overdo the patting because they could also be a lot better.
If you made some new year's resolutions and promptly forgot where you put them – or if you didn't make any at all - now is a good time to reconsider your options. The middle of the year a good date to stop and think about how far we have come, and where we are going.
First the good news: You're still alive, your job still exists, and you're still with your partner or happily single. But maybe your health could be better, your job could be more fulfilling and things could be improved on the relationship front. Maybe now is the time for a re-set. How do you even know whether we need to?
The big picture
"I think some people are hardwired to know what's good for them. And to know how to do it. Others need a bit of a nudge, says psychologist Sara Chatwin of mindworks.co.nz. "They need to have the self-insight to go: I'm not really on this.' Some people wind up at this point going, 'Whoa, I wanted to do this, but what have I actually done?' "
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Self-insight isn't genetic. Where does the person who needs it find it? "I often tell my clients to just sit and think about how their life has played out. So if the same things have happened to them over and over again, the lessons aren't being learned. Sometimes friends and family members can identify that things are going wrong."
Chatwin's advice for any resolution echoes that of most experts.
"It helps to set short-term goals that are small, tangible and attainable. A huge goal can be scary."
A quick example of making a small, tangible and attainable goal: if you want to read more, aim to set aside one evening a week for reading. Don't tell yourself you're going to read a book a week.
Chatwin also recommends a psychological spring clean: "In our heads there can be so much rubbish stored up from decades ago that we actually need to let go of. So the psychological spring clean is the ability to go, 'Oh, boy, I need to get over this or I need to stop thinking about this negativity'.
"A professional or even a good buddy - who is less likely to be deeply bound up in the dynamic than a family member - can help with this."
Once you've decided to do your mid-year stocktake, it's time to focus on your resolutions. It's no good having a great job, learning to save or reintroducing bliss to your marriage if you aren't well enough to enjoy them. As earth-shaking as the pandemic has been, the general advice around health is pretty much the same as it has been for decades: don't smoke, exercise regularly and eat sensibly.
GP Bryan Betty, medical director of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, says it's never too late to lift our health game and that a few lifestyle changes can make a lot of difference.
"Just increasing the amount that you walk per day has an incredible effect on overall health, cardiovascular health and blood pressure," says Betty. "Exercise is probably better than any medication we could possibly throw at someone."
The annual – or midyear - check-up is also advised.
"You can then start to look at things that are hidden, like our cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Knowing about these things early prevents problems 10 to 20 years down the track."
The GP is also a good first responder to mental health concerns: "GPs are very skilled at mental health issues, and they've got certain approaches to them. The bulk of what happens with mental health is done in the general practice setting."
But Betty warns against setting ourselves up to fail by making resolutions that are too ambitious: "If you say, 'I'm going to go to the gym every day for two hours and work out,' you will fail. Instead, do something very simple that is achievable."
After mental and physical wellbeing, the next priority for many people is financial health, which is closely linked to career satisfaction.
Making resolutions in the areas of careers and finance, and then revisiting our goals regularly is highly recommended by Vanessa Pope, a financial adviser with The Private Office. She recommends starting with the free money.
"The key thing is KiwiSaver," she says. "If you contribute, the minimum amount, of $1,042.86 you'll get half of that. So you get $521.43."
This year's Big Question is "to buy or not to buy" – a house, that is. Individual circumstances differ widely but, says Pope: "If you can get on the ladder when you're in your 20s, it's not a chain around your neck, because you can easily rent it out and still enjoy your life." In other words – you can get someone else to pay your mortgage while you live elsewhere.
Any financial strategy requires some self-control. People should budget and probably don't do it enough, but "it's just managing the basics. List your expenses and what you earn. Once it's written down, you can see where you can make the cutbacks if you want to."
And if you want to change jobs, as most people do at some stage, how do you make that call? The career that makes you happiest might not be the most financially rewarding, and the high-paying jobs make a lot of people miserable. Pope says some people prefer satisfaction, some want the money. Although her work is in finance, her approach is not just about being shown the money: "You spend so many hours [at work] it's important to enjoy it."
Of course, you can be fit as a fiddle, loving your job and as miserable at hell at home. There's nothing like being emotionally unsatisfied to take the shine off your newly improved life.
"I've had a lot of clients come in to do a midlife review since Covid," says relationship coach and therapist Ann Jay. "When you have to slow down, you take stock. The standard line is, 'We've been having some struggles,' or 'Things have not been going well, for the past couple of years.' "
Some are cases where people shouldn't have waited until it was broken to fix it. Some are cases where it doesn't even need fixing, just a little light dusting. Or a couple may have made a new year's resolution that hasn't stuck. They mistake the resolution for the execution. To avoid that, says Jay, they have to be "very intentional", which means committing to a goal, even if it's something as simple as not using their phones during dinner.
She says there are a couple of key things that will help with emotional and relationship wellbeing: One is prioritising it. "We need to keep nurturing our relationship. And even if we've got kids, we need to put the relationship at the top of the pyramid, because if you've got that right, then everything else will flow on from that."
Another is accentuating the positive: "Talk about what's going well between you, about hopes and dreams for the future, because that keeps us motivated."
And without motivation, nothing else will happen, no matter what time of year you've chosen to take stock.
Every year, around January 1 newspapers and magazines, podcasts and websites tackle the topic of new year's resolutions. A survey of these articles in sources ranging from the New York Times and Forbes.com to self.com and lifehack.org shows a remarkable consistency. Here are 11 of the most common recommendations for making resolutions stick:
You can succeed only if your goal is achievable.
You need time to work on your goals and plan how to get there.
Learn and adapt
Failure is nature's way of telling you are doing it wrong. Adjust your settings. See Rule 1.
Talk about it
Take advantage of others' advice and experience.
Get a buddy
A resolution shared is a resolution you will be inspired to stick to.
Small rewards – a piece of ginger crunch, half an hour of music as a break - can be a powerful motivation.
Well, don't aim to fail, but take a setback as an opportunity to learn and re-set.
Choose a specific goal
"Get healthy" is not a goal. Five alcohol-free nights a week is.
Avoid repeating failures
Another strategy for keeping your New Year's resolution is to not make and fail to keep the same resolution year after year.
Make it relevant
The more impact a goal will have on your life the more motivated you will be to pursue it.
Keep working on your goals
Which is really what this whole story is about.