January is Not for Goal Setting

The holidays can be an intense time for many of us, between eating, decorating, shopping, planning travel, and family dynamics. In the last eight weeks of this year, my family will celebrate three birthdays, two major holidays with food, decorating and gifts, and a funeral, complete with the necessary travel. 

While living in Asia, we did our best to celebrate our holiday traditions, even if Thanksgiving was on a Saturday, or Christmas was celebrated on a beach. But one thing I really enjoyed was January 1 wasn’t the start of the year – rather the new year started with the Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year where we lived, in late January or February. 

We loved joining in the festivities with red packets, dumplings, and oranges, but I especially enjoyed how it gave me a moment to rest in January, without the need to start the year with a bang. Being in sync with the rest of the country – and most of the continent – we slowed down in January in the lead-up to celebrating their biggest holiday of the year. 

Because, let’s be honest, on the last days of 2022 and the first few of 2023, we will be bloated from eating all our favorites, tired from too much celebrating, but hopefully smiling from joyous memories. Some think beginning the year with a fresh start will increase the likelihood of success for your goals – but they also say starting goals on a Monday offers the same idea of starting afresh. For me, adding in reflection on the past year and deciding goals for the next on top of an already full holiday season seems like it could be the straw that breaks this mama camel’s back.

On average, only 9-12% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions. Most people blame a lack of time, resources, motivation, or a loss of zeal, and while these factors can prevent success in goal setting, being burnt out can also be the cause. A slower rate of success can cause you to think you are failing, and therefore, throw in the towel sooner, rather than recognizing a break is in order. 

As the new year starts and we slowly move toward equilibrium with better choices and movement, why not use January to rest, relax, and recover? We deserve it after a long year of coming out of the pandemic, possibly working from the office, and re-starting family holiday traditions, especially if you are a mom who creates the magic. The year is long and there is no rule that says goals or resolutions need to be set or start on day one.

 The American Psychological Association found, on average, more women than men bare the holiday stress, due to managing the majority of the responsibilities for shopping and planning with limited time. So, it makes sense we need to take a break after this kind of activity! Rest will consolidate the memories of our holiday season, but also boost creativity, problem solving, and big picture thinking – all important before we take on the task of planning out next year’s goals. Rest also helps with a healthier immune system and a better metabolism, which could get you moving in the right direction for goals you want to set.

 So take your time! Breath, relax, get your bearings. Depending on where you live, the weather is often not idyllic, so take advantage of the down time to do what makes you feel best- whether that’s cozying up with a good book, taking a walk or organizing your home. You may have overdue doctors’ appointments you put off during the holiday season, or clothes that need mending or replacing. Use this month to take care of yourself, especially in ways that might have been put on hold in the past month.

 Once you are feeling rested and refreshed, don’t reach for the pen and paper just yet. If it’s still January, you should still be in resting mode. As you start to get some distance from the holidays, take time to reflect on the last year—what were your favorite parts? What parts were you tolerating? What worked well? What could be better? No judgment or decisions required, just noticing. Take notes if you must, but contemplating for a few moments each day before bed or while pouring your coffee is sufficient.  

 Taking the time to relax and decompress will provide you with the right mindset for creating the life you want, rather than in reaction to the exhaustion you feel. Instead of focusing on goals that respond to the message of “I’m so tired,” you can think more clearly about what you want from your career, your family life, your relationship, and even the coming year’s holidays. The reflection without judgment will allow you to develop realistic and achievable goals because you aren’t starting from scratch, rather building on the knowledge and data you gathered in previous years. By giving yourself the space to recover from an intense season, your goals can be thoughtful, intentional, and set you up for success.

 Sara Madera is a mother of two, and founder of Plan Creatively, which provides individuals and organizations with career coaching programs for working mothers.