Friday, 31 December 2021

It’s the anti-resolutions issue

The Beginning

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WHAT IF WE ALL STOPPED TRYING SO HARD?

What if we stopped setting ourselves unrealistic goals this new year? So few of us manage to keep our NY resolutions going from one year to the next, and in our experience that renewed sense of possibility that permeates the first few days of the year rarely outlasts January. While bettering ourselves and our lives is a noble enough pursuit, setting out a list of tasks for the new year before it has even begun can leave some of us feeling overwhelmed. This year, we’ve decided to do away with resolutions and take things one step at a time, and we’re sharing our thoughts on how you can too.

NEW YEAR, (NOT SO) NEW ME

Once upon a time, Egyptian pop shaabi star Shaaban Abdel Rehim rose to stardom when he sang of turning a new leaf by quitting smoking and lifting weights. But the heyday of setting ambitious resolutions that then fall flat may be behind us, with studies showing that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail. One of the main reasons that resolutions fail is that certain behaviors are so deeply rooted in our consciousness that the things we want to change often reflect deep set beliefs about our own inadequacy. That nagging voice that tells us that we’re just not good enough leads us to set overambitious goals and then self-sabotage. And our resolutions become part of the 80% that fail.

All you need is love. Self-love, that is. Sometimes, change is not a complete transformation, but rather an acceptance of who we are. Exercising self-compassion by reflecting honestly on our shortcomings and empathizing with ourselves has proven to be more effective than boosting self-esteem. It also helps us to be honest with ourselves about the areas that we do not need to improve and our own limitations in doing so.

But also, get over yourself. While self-improvement is a good goal to have, studies show that our over-obsession with improving ourselves often paralyzes us, preventing us from focusing on things that can actually be fulfilling. Ironically, studies show that being interested in stuff other than your own well-being or happiness makes you happier. This isn’t just some hippie-dippy rhetoric either — self-help and the constant pursuit of self-optimization can be toxic, producing adverse mental health consequences that range from depression to anxiety to feelings of low self-worth.

So, do we give up resolutions altogether? Not necessarily, but definitely take the pressure off yourself to achieve with them. Adopting a gentler approach is likely to be more effective and can make you feel better about yourself. Rather than starting from scratch and setting overambitious goals that are bound to fail, experts suggest building on something that you’ve already made progress with. In this way, you won’t be discouraged at the first roadblock.

Use instant gratification. Present bias or instant gratification is our brain’s tendency to prioritize short-term goals over long-term ones (hitting snooze just one more time versus going for that morning run, for example). So focus on creating small rewards along the way to your larger one — because that big dream of yours may not get you out of bed in the morning just yet. This will allow you to gradually build up trust in yourself as you work to eliminate that negative self-talk.

Celebrate victories (however small). Give yourself a little pat on the back when you do manage to hit those small milestones, because how you feel about yourself is a big part of creating a mindset that allows us to visualize how we want to feel. Simply reflecting on small wins and developments over the course of the year will help build up your self-trust and help you create a positive (and realistic) mindset as you learn to embrace your flaws and learn to overcome the obstacles that make you feel that you’re not good enough.

THE NEW YEAR’S ANTI-RESOLUTION

Why can’t we stick to resolutions? Before we answer this question, we first need to take a long, hard look at why we continue to make New Year’s resolutions year in and year out, completely undeterred from the slew of failed resolutions in years past. Oftentimes, the amped up pressure during this time of the year from friends, colleagues, social media and TV, is what ends up driving the need for us to follow suit and make our own pledges, not our having a genuine willingness — or readiness — to make a change.

The reason behind a resolution matters: The impetus for setting resolutions includes social pressure, a desire to reinvent oneself, and feelings of guilt or shame about one’s habits, according to psychologists. But what’s often lacking is actually the most important ingredient: The real desire to make a change that is specific to your own needs and wishes, and not those of friends, family, or society at large.

First of all, let’s ditch the word “should”: In her book How to Get Sh*t Done, lifestyle coach Erin Falconer says using the word "should" — whether it’s “I should start dieting,” or “I should quit smoking,” or “I should start exercising — as part of the rationale behind your resolution will likely doom it to failure. This is because “should” is often tied to feelings of guilt and shame, and reflects people or society’s expectations of you, and an “absence of a decision,” Falconer writes. It does not reflect an actual commitment to the resolution, but rather a feeling that you’re obligated to do something.

But of course, it’s all in the mindset: Changing up your vocabulary when inking your resolution into your planner isn’t the secret ingredient for success. The word itself is attached to a mindset with a history of baggage for each individual, based on years of being convinced you’re slacking off from things you really should be doing. “Right from the getgo [a resolution] has failure and procrastination built into it,” says one psychology professor. Framing your resolution negatively from the start as something that must be done will not help you move forward with it; it will keep your head churning thoughts about the very thing you’re trying to avoid, psychologists say.

And if you’re not committed, the very foundation of your resolution is wobbly: Most resolutions made for the wrong reasons — and rushed through without too much thought — end up being vague and unrealistic, dissolving either into abstract resolutions that are difficult to measure, or incomplete resolutions that don’t factor in the concrete repercussions of making a change.

People need to prepare: This is where preparation comes in, one psychologist says. Preparation is an essential step in any process of lasting change, without which no change of habit can come about. Spending time in the preparation stage, ensuring your mental, physical, and financial state are ready for this new change, and that you are ready for what will come with it, is the only way you can really let it stick. January 1st resolutions — which often have an implied timeline of a year in order for it to count as a “success” — are too time restricted to allow you to make sure you’re ready to take on the challenge.

Don’t set goals based on a calendar date: The process of making a change is a long and active one, and it shouldn’t be dictated by the flip of a calendar page. Rather than making a resolution on the first day of the new year, decide you'll change your habits when you’re actually ready to commit. That could take days, weeks, or even months, but being prepared — whether mentally, physically or just because the place you’re in right now allows it — is essential if you plan to stick to your new change.

DIET RESOLUTIONS AREN’T THE SOLUTION

Wild guess: You were planning to put “go on a diet” on your list of resolutions. Let us just stop you right there. Over a quarter of people in the MENA region are on a diet, falling between the global range of 20-40%, according to a 2017 research review in ​Obesity Reviews​. This statistic doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, seeing as we each have several friends and family members (or are among those) who opt out of dessert with a wave of their hand and an “I’m on a diet” excuse.

The thing with diets is that their failure rate is a whopping 95%: Even if you do get to your target weight, only 5% of people who diet to lose weight will keep it off for more than five years, according to research published in the National Library for Medicine. If anything, diets often make you unhealthier, both physically and mentally: Strict eating regimens “may also have unintended consequences, contributing to food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distraction from other personal health goals and wider health determinants, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, other health decrement, and weight stigmatization and discrimination,” according to a study.

Despite its propensity for failure, diet culture can be found everywhere: Diet culture is a set of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it with health and moral virtue, according to anti-diet dietitian and author of Anti-Diet, Christy Harrison. Diet culture leads to the moralization of food where some are good and some are bad, a concept that is made more potent with the idea that “you are what you eat.” Think of the narrative around certain foods such as quinoa versus pizza or the way brands market their “healthy” products.

The main problem with diet culture is that it tries to force a one-size-fits-all approach. “It assumes that eating in a certain way will result in the right body size and good health, and that it's attainable for anybody who has the 'right' willpower, the 'right' determination,” Judith Matz, author of The Body Positivity Card Deck and Diet Survivor's Handbook, said to Good Housekeeping.

But since every body type is different, diet culture sets up a huge proportion of people for failure. Instead of dieting, people should (hint: this is your anti-resolution) adopt a health approach that is attainable and meant to sustain long term changes by being customized to their body type. These should not be based not on weight or body goals, but on lifestyle changes that will improve people's lives without having them fixated on being a certain weight.

Enter body positivity movements — and a more reasonable approach to health: These movements aim to shed light about the negative impacts of the common narrative that thinness equals beauty, health, and motivation. The Health at Every Size (HAES) approach promotes balanced eating, life-enhancing physical activity, and respect for the diversity of body shapes and sizes. HAES also sheds light on issues in the public health system towards people with different body types, touching on occurrences of people being denied full health care coverage and routine health screening procedures, while facing increased stigmatization.

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YOUR TOP 5

Your top 5 pieces of business and economic news in December:

  • SODIC is now Emirati: The Emirati consortium of real estate giant Aldar Properties and Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund ADQ acquired 85.5% of SODIC in an all-cash, EGP 6.1 bn transaction.
  • Banque Misr-owned CI Capital is attempting to acquire a 26% stake in leading healthcare company Cleopatra Hospitals.
  • Abu Qir is slightly less state-owned: The fertilizer company raised EGP 2.25 bn selling an additional 10% of its shares on the EGX.
  • Rates unmoved in 2021: The central bank left interest rates unchanged in its final policy meeting of the year, eyeing rising global inflation, the spread of Omicron and higher US rates.
  • You may now legally SPAC: Blank-check firms are now a thing in Egypt after regulators last month gave the all-clear.

BEING A BETTER PARENT CAN LOOK DIFFERENT THAN YOU’D EXPECT

The pressure to be a perfect parent is high on the first day of the year. If you’re anything like us, then your offspring’s arrival into the world has turned your annual plans to become a better human into resolutions to become a better parent. But after two years of juggling working and child-rearing amid a global health emergency, we’re all drained. We constantly want to do more for our kids, we’re perpetually exhausted, and we’re feeling more guilt than ever before.

What if we decide to let go of unrealistic pressure and set practical goals for our families? Let’s take it easy on ourselves this year and choose to maintain a sense of balance, keep our stress levels (and irritability) in check, and make each day a little easier.

Starting with one of the most-debated and most-judged parenting topics: Screen time. Do you find yourself concerned about the amount of time your kids are looking at screens? If you’re a modern-day parent, the answer is likely yes. You’ve probably heard of the global recommendations for limited screen time, and you’ve likely tried to implement them in your house. The result? Whining, meltdowns, fights between siblings, and flat-out refusal. Let’s face it, screens are unavoidable in today’s tech-driven world — whether it’s a Zoom class meeting, video games, social media, or an episode of Paw Patrol at 5 am so you can sleep for an extra 30 minutes.

Rule #1: We need to start with the principle of all principles — a child’s healthy development is most affected by his/her parent (you!) being a healthy, functioning human being. Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Any suggestions, including those below, need to be considered through the filter of your life and situation. In other words, do what you need to do to get through the day.

Good news for parents: Digital devices don’t always result in a negative impact on our kids’ development. We can even argue that children who are tech-savvy will be better prepared for a workforce set to be predominantly digital, if not entirely set in the metaverse, and that educational TV content, like Sesame Street, has been shown to help improve behavior, literacy and cognitive skills for three- to five-year-olds.

Your realistic resolution: Focus on the quality, not the quantity, of your kids’ screen time. Help your kids establish a healthy relationship with tech by striking a balance between educational and recreational. So instead of fighting a lost battle with your kids and stomping around the house unplugging devices in frustration, guide them towards age-appropriate, educational content that transfers useful knowledge. Technology can be empowering for older kids too, with tools that help them express their creativity, and learn in engaging ways. If you’re ready to go the extra mile, focus on going screen-free in the times that children get the most benefits, like meal times (promotes healthier eating habits) and bedtime (instrumental for restoration).

Shift the focus: The key to helping your kids achieve a balanced relationship with tech actually starts with your own usage. We are constantly on our phone, logging late hours working, surfing social media, and binge-watching our favorite shows. Children are likely to copy our behavior. The ping of a message notification is hard to resist, and it draws in even the most strong-willed among us. We get that it’s difficult to pledge to cut down on phone usage (we’ve tried, and we’ve failed), but it may be easier to commit to going outside with your children more regularly. Being outdoors is good for the entire family, and the noise can drown out that irresistible ping.

And when in doubt? Refer to rule #1.

DITCH THE PIGGY BANK

“Saving more” might not be the solution to your financial woes: Amid the pledges to exercise more and eat less, saving money ranks fairly highly on the list of the world’s most popular new year’s resolutions. It’s a common-sense solution to limit some of our financial anxieties and plan for the future, whether that’s saving for a particular goal or paying off debts. But making vague commitments to save more can become an unattainable resolution destined to fail soon after the first few months of the new year roll through.

To be clear: We’re not telling you to ditch the financial planning entirely and burn your cash, but without more specific commitments you can probably forget about reaching your goals.

Be specific: Turning vague desires into actionable plans could start by being SMART-er. How much do you want to save? Over what timeframe? What are the conditions for success? And how will you measure failure?

And keep your target grounded in reality: It sounds self-explanatory but setting a target that isn’t within the realm of possibility will end in failure. Keep in mind your circumstances, and the time and resources available to you, and go from there.

Keeping tabs on your debt: Paying off debt will require much of the same framing as setting those saving goals: it’s all about planning. There are dozens of strategies, like the snowball method, that help make paying off debt a slightly less nerve wracking endeavor. The snowball method suggests that you opt for paying off the debt with the smallest balance first. This has the positive psychology of getting one less source of debt off your back and encouraging more frequent debt payoffs, according to the Harvard Business Review.

The pay yourself first method: Most people wait to determine how much to save only after they’ve paid for a host of essential needs and non-essential wants throughout the month. Paying yourself first is a strategy that involves setting aside a fixed amount of your paycheck before spending on anything else. This strategy is admittedly a very stringent way of making sure you’ve committed to your savings goals but it can easily become a difficult task to sustain if you’re left with gaps in making ends meet.

But it’s no secret that simply cutting back on small indulgences is not enough to help you reach your financial goals: Although reducing how frequently you eat out might help free up some lost income, it is by no means an end all be all solution. The reality is that stagnant wage growth in many countries has severely limited people’s ability to save and invest in the future. So cut yourself some slack.

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