It may be the darkest month of the year, but February has at least two things going for it: it’s short and it’s not January.
February brings relief from the pressures that come with the start of the year. The constant stream of gym ads dwindles. For those of us already thinking about ditching our New Year’s resolutions, the arrival of February can feel like tacit permission to give up.
If you haven’t made as much progress on your resolutions as you’d like, psychologists emphasize that you shouldn’t be hard on yourself. “Life is about consistent, achievable healthy habits, or adding things to your life in manageable chunks,” says Thea Gallagher, clinical psychologist and associate professor at NYU Langone Health.
Here’s how to keep working toward your goals, in February and throughout the year.
REFLECT ON YOUR RESOLUTIONS
It’s important to first think about whether you made the right resolution, says Tyler J. VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard. Reflect on what’s going well—and what’s not going so well—with your goals so far.
“Maybe I haven’t moved on because that’s actually not the most important thing to me right now,” says VanderWeele. Or maybe your resolution still feels important, but you’re struggling to stay committed. In this case, you may benefit from setting more achievable goals.
Consider a goal that is “almost embarrassingly manageable,” says Gallagher. She challenged herself to read ten minutes a day — which may not seem like much, but it adds up over the week, she says. Instead of aiming for ambitious goals, start low and go slowly. It’s advice followed by marathon runners and helps them cross the finish line.
GIVE YOURSELF A MARGIN FOR ERROR
You cannot and should not expect to achieve a goal 100% of the time. If you’re trying to eat better, for example, maybe follow an 80/20 rule, says Gallagher: Allow yourself to eat whatever you want 20 percent of the time, so you don’t get tired of strict restrictions.
She mentions a client who had difficulty finding time to exercise during the week. Gallagher advised her to schedule her workouts on weekend mornings rather than feeling pressured to fit in exercise every day.
Give yourself some flexibility. If you’re trying to reduce your social media use, maybe limit yourself to 15 minutes a day instead of stopping completely.
FIND AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER
If you’re trying to practice yoga more often, find a friend who can encourage you and send them a post-savasana selfie. If you want to spend more time outdoors this year, schedule a weekly walk with a family member or call a friend while you walk, suggests Angela Neal-Barnett, a professor of psychological sciences at Kent State University.
It’s also helpful to schedule a regular check-in on your goals with a loved one so you can update each other on your progress, says VanderWeele. Having a regular time to connect—whether it’s a call on Wednesday night or coffee on Sunday morning—can encourage you to keep moving toward your goals and also help strengthen your relationships.
“We know from lots and lots of studies and data that participating in the community and having these close relationships affects so many other areas of life,” he says. “Including making someone happier and healthier.”
SHOW YOURSELF COMPASSIONATE
“In psychology, we use these two words a lot: So what?” says Neal-Barnett. You missed a day of Duolingo in your quest to learn Spanish. And? You threw yourself into bed last night without taking the time to write in your diary. And?
Show yourself grace and compassion, she says. Instead of beating yourself up, appreciate the small victories. If you’re trying to walk two miles every day and today you only did half a mile, appreciate the movement you were able to make.
“Tomorrow is another day,” says Neal-Barnett. “And you start there.”