How often do you say, “By the end of the end, I’ll…” We often set the deadline for accomplishing our goals and have specific expectations of how things should be by the end of the year. If we haven’t done everything we intended, we may feel a sense of urgency, panic, even despair, as mid-December rolls around. Here are some tips, backed by research, to put things into perspective and help you close out the year with grace and skill—and find peace.
1. Beware of The Zeigarnik effect. We tend to remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones, called the Zeigarnik effect by Gestalt psychologists. At the end of the year, it’s easy to shine a spotlight on what’s left undone and to forget all that we’ve accomplished. You can counteract this effect by making a list of all the important tasks you’ve accomplished this year.
2. Balance out the negativity bias. We have a cognitive bias to focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right. Looking for threats in the environment gave us an evolutionary advantage by staying alert to possible dangers and problems. But this way of thinking can negatively distort our view of how things are going in our life. When you find yourself focusing on the negative, try making a list of good things in your life.
3. Put social comparison in perspective. The end of the year often means more socializing. People want to know what we’ve been up to, and they want to brag about their own accomplishments. It’s easy to compare how others appear at a party (or on Instagram) with how we’re feeling inside. Prepare a couple of stories to tell that will make you feel good about the year. And if negative events happened in your life like a death, break-up/divorce, or job loss, decide what (if anything) you’re going to say about it ahead of time, and stick with your plan.
4. Deadlines might be arbitrary. Ask yourself is this deadline real? Do I absolutely have to accomplish this by December 31st? If the answer is no, then cut yourself a break. If you make New Year’s resolutions and have difficulty keeping them, you might find making monthly or weekly goals more manageable and avoid all the pressure to complete things during the last few days of the year.
5. Focus on learning goals. Research on mindset shows that we are much more effective when we focus on learning rather than performance. At the end of the year, there’s a tendency to look at the outcomes and results of our efforts in terms of concrete accomplishments: what we achieved and what we didn’t. Consider what you’ve learned this year. What were your biggest failures and what did you learn from them?
6. Practice gratitude. Research shows that practicing gratitude as enormous benefits for our physical health, emotional well-being, and the quality of our relationships. The end of the year is the perfect time to cultivate gratitude for all that you have in your life. It can be as simple as being grateful for your breath, your body, the food you have to eat, and the roof over your head. It’s easy to miss these simple things that make our lives possible.
And remember the end of one year is the beginning of another—and a fresh start!
Aspinwall, L. G.; Taylor, S. E. (1993). Effects of social comparison direction, threat, and self-esteem on affect, self-evaluation, and expected success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 64, 708–722.
Dweck, C. S. (2007) Mindset: The New psychology of Success. Random House.
Emmons, R. A.; McCullough, M. E. (2004). Psychology of Gratitude. Oxford University Press.
Rozin, P.; & Royzman, E.B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 296-320.
Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 73-82.
Zeigarnik, B. (1967). On finished and unfinished tasks. In W. D. Ellis (Ed.), A sourcebook of Gestalt psychology. Humanities Press.
Originally published at www.psychologytoday.com