Tips to help cope with the year ahead

Smile. Develop an optimistic attitude

With the potential of new beginnings and opportunities, the New Year should fill us with excitement and hope to start afresh. Because of some of our failures and habits, sooner rather than later (many of) our New Year’s resolutions could fall by the wayside, leaving us uncertain, insecure and even gloomy about the road ahead.

“The cause of our inability to stick to well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions can be attributed to a lack of understanding as to how people change, but particularly the role of habits,” Tony de Gouveia, a clinical psychologist at Akeso psychiatric clinic, points out.

He explains that 90% of our normal behaviour is based on our habits.

“We are creatures of habits, both good and successful ones, but also bad and unsuccessful ones. However, we can change our bad habits. The average response time is 21 days or approximately three to four weeks, but the problem is that most people give up before then.”

Goals versus resolutions

“The best way to face changes and challenges that may come our way in 2018, is to confront them head on.

Avoidance just won’t do, so we need to position ourselves in terms of the direction which we wish to take over the next 12 months, and set ‘SMART’ goals around this direction. These are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-frame specific. This acronym ensures that these goals happen, unlike many New Year’s resolutions.

“A goal is a real-time pursuit of a worthy objective, until it is achieved.

“Goals create the necessary direction and purpose, focus our attention and thereby increase our motivation.

“It is like a magnet that pulls us towards the target(s). You need to remember that a goal without a number is just a slogan.

“Our goals also need to be focused on a specific area, for example weight or smoking, and essentially should be measurable (kilograms, centimetres), with targets specified, namely the ideal weight.

“There are no unrealistic, unachievable goals – only unrealistic time-frames. To expect to lose 5kg in five days will never work.

“R not only stands for realistic, but also for record – when we write our goals down on paper, they are far more motivational than when we just say them silently to ourselves. Also, unless a time-frame is specified, there is no sense of urgency and the goal invariably is not realised or simply gets postponed, often indefinitely,” De Gouveia points out. “Moreover, there is an underlying factor that needs to be highlighted, namely confidence. Confidence is the enabler which allows us to carry out any goal, no matter how difficult it may be,” he stresses.


Complacency, arrogance and avoidance are the main pitfalls to avoid.

“Each of these poses its own dangers which include, primarily, being out of sync with the reality or environment and more importantly the people, family and friends around you,” he advises.

Help, assistance

Indeed, there may be times when we feel that we simply cannot cope and then gradually slide into major clinical depression (Major Depressive Disorder or MDD).

This is very often a gradual and insidious process if we do not take remedial action, like getting into some form of counselling and psychotherapy.

“Up to 20% of the world population experiences some form of non-coping and depression.

“Firstly, you should not personalise depression or not coping. Secondly, help is at hand; there are many healthcare professionals in both state and private healthcare facilities who are ready and waiting to assist.”

Among these, he says, are NGOs such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) which assist persons struggling with anxiety and depression. With the necessary professional assistance, guidance and help, along with a mindful(ness) approach to life, individuals harbouring feelings of despondency and inadequacy in the face of another year’s challenges and changes, may not only overcome their sense of hopelessness; they may actually achieve many of the goals they set for themselves,” he concludes.

Coping mechanisms

“A resilient, adaptable mind-set with realistic and flexible expectations as well as the ability to self-correct in the face of the strongest of winds (resistance), are powerful coping mechanisms.

“The Chinese have a saying, ‘If you fall seven times, you must get up eight times’. Resilience is best cultivated through the development of positive habits which through time and repetition eventually become ‘hard-wired’ and automatic, requiring little conscious effort,” he stresses.

Five tips to make the best of whatever 2018 may bring

Smile. Develop an optimistic attitude -it makes a difference.

Develop your Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills – these will come handy at any time when you are under stress.

Do a personal strategic analysis and strategic plan – if it works for the big corporates it can work for you.

You will need to develop a mindful(ness) approach to life which will create a sensitivity and space for personal change and experimentation.

In line with the above, remember that threats and crises are opportunities and “strangers are friends you do not know.”