Dec 31, 2013

    Start the New Year on the right foot

    THE year-end festive season may bring about a mixed bag of emotions - the joy and excitement that come from celebrations and sumptuous meals coinciding with worries and feelings of stress over the pressure of career goals we set out to achieve at the start of the year.

    The close of another year often gets people thinking not only about their achievements, but also setbacks that they may have faced over the past 12 months.

    For many young executives and even experienced working adults, it is usually the time to take stock and evaluate whether they have achieved their career goals for the year. They may experience a sense of anticipation and have a positive outlook towards new beginnings, or harbour feelings of regret and sadness over unfulfilled aspirations.

    As an executive starting out in the corporate world, you are eager to make an impression at work. Many of us may believe that belonging to a group and being seen as a team player is part of the job as we aspire to progress in our careers.

    With the festive season around the corner, you may feel the need to participate in the office gift exchange, or attend after-office-hours social functions, for fear of being left out.

    This may lead to last-minute stressful shopping sprees to buy gifts or efforts to look your best. You may also feel the need to buy something nice for your loved ones, which can lead to financial stress as your budget may start to look stretched.

    The stress level may also go up a notch if you are a perfectionist at work. You constantly spot mistakes in your work and try to improve. Perfectionists will rarely accept anything less than perfection, even in their social lives, as anything less than perfect is considered a failure.

    How then can we ensure that we start the year on the right foot?

    Coping with year-end stress

    It is important to start the New Year on a positive note. To do that, there is a need to understand that negative feelings can stem from unrealistic expectations of yourself and others.

    Keeping up with the Joneses

    We often find that we place pressure on ourselves by trying to keep up with the Joneses, especially in gift buying. But ask any recipient and you will often realise that it is truly the thought that counts. People appreciate the effort taken to present them with a thoughtful gift, regardless of its cost.

    You can also take comfort in the fact that many of these negative feelings like keeping up with appearances or preparing for the year-end social event will eventually pass as the festive season ends.

    Realistic goals, even for the perfectionist

    The year-end holiday season is a good time to reflect on and explore areas in your life that have been bothering you. Use the break to come up with solutions for those stressors that you believe you can resolve. Ask yourself if the expectations you have of yourself are realistic - whether on the personal front or at work.

    If they are not, you might want to revise your goals towards something more manageable while still being aspirational. If you find yourself unable to work through these issues on your own, consider talking to a trusted mentor or friend.

    Getting active can give your mind and body a break from the issues that cannot be resolved. Indulge in activities that bring pleasure, relaxation and meaning. Go for a massage, sign up for yoga class or spend some time with nature. Staying away from places that trigger stress can help you to relax.

    Count your blessings

    Volunteering for a cause can add meaning to your life, and increase a sense of joy and contentment. Through volunteering, you learn to appreciate what you have, count your blessings and show gratitude.

    Being thankful and showing appreciation foster positive feelings, which in turn contribute to one's overall sense of well-being. It has been found that being grateful brings about greater optimism and a sense of connectedness to others.

    New Year resolutions are for the year, not just the month of December

    We make resolutions every year with the best of intentions and hope that we can stick to them. Personal resolutions may range from losing weight to getting that promotion at work.

    The thing about resolutions is that they usually start out well during the first few weeks but once work starts to pile up, you may find that you have less time to work on your resolutions. This is when you should understand that resolutions are to be worked on throughout the year.

    They are life-long changes that you want to make. Not achieving the resolutions for the year does not represent failure; it is simply a bump on the road.

    You should consider reviewing your resolutions regularly throughout the year. This will allow you to see how you are coping and make adjustments accordingly, instead of reviewing them at the end of the year, only to realise you have missed your targets.

    Start 2014 SMART

    Take some time during this holiday season to refocus and work towards more manageable expectations of yourself by setting SMART goals. SMART goals are targets that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. By adopting the right attitude, there is no reason why you cannot achieve your goals.

    Here is wishing you a happy and stress-free holiday season.

    The writer is a clinical psychologist from the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.