The new year can be stressful for many different reasons. From the biological clock telling the mind that one thing is coming to an end and we need to prepare for new beginnings, to the anxiety that comes with holiday planning and money spent making the season memorable, a lot of people find the winter to be one of the most depressing times of the year.

Along with the many feelings associated with personal interests during this period of time, the weather tends to be colder, the sun goes down earlier, and many people are spending more time indoors. With that comes the natural feeling of “darkness” and loneliness. Not to mention, societal pressures have told people this is a time of reflection and we must take the time to set goals and resolutions.

While many psychologists and counselors say that the best time to set a goal is now, some people still wish to use the end of the year as their goal setting time.

For those that are thinking about their plans for the future, here are three tips to get started.

It is not too big if you think about it in micro steps

Many have heard of the big, hairy audacious goal, but did you know that this goal is made up of many smaller achievements.

Strengths Coach Brent O’Bannon of Sherman has tips for tackling the “BHAG.” O’Bannon is a professionally certified coach, mentor coach, and author of an Amazon No. 1 best seller. His coaching and training company has worked with Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Alliance Data, the city of Dallas, Harley Davidson, GALLUP, Citi Bank, AT&T, and Cigna Employee Assistance programs.

“It took my three years to pay off my Discover Card,” O’Bannon explains of a time when he took longer than he wanted to achieve a goal. “I was disappointed after the first year when it was not paid off. The second year, I ended up having to put a few items back on the card. Then during the third year, I finally paid off the entire balance. So I understand that when you set a goal for yourself, it can get hard and you can get discouraged when you do not complete it in the time that you set to accomplish it.”

Smith says that people that struggle with depression tend to set unrealistic goals, which can perpetuate feelings of depression. That is why, she says, healthy goal setting should be a priority.

“Setting goals is always good, as it gives you something to look forward to,” she explains, suggesting that people set five-year and ten-year plans. “The brain likes certainty. It likes to see what’s coming. When we can’t, fear rears its ugly head. A common misstep that we often make is to make large, lofty goals. We get caught up in the excitement and are overzealous in our planning. Our goals become unrealistic, we get disappointed when we don’t achieve them and prematurely terminate them often feeling as we have failed.”

Then the cycle continues.

“Some ways to achieve those lofty goals are set the main goal but break it down into smaller, obtainable steps,” Smith says. “Imagine drawing an upside-down triangle. Starting from the bottom up, list steps you can take to reach the top of the triangle, hence the obtaining the goal. It is important to reward yourself for each step that is mastered. When writing out the steps to reach the goal, list the reward with each step.”

Visualization is very important in priming the brain to accept change.

If you are feeling bad, it may not necessarily be your fault

It is natural to let the season get you down.

“I believe that some of the changes that come with seasons come from the stereotypes we grew up believing,” Hope for Texoma Licensed Professional Counselor Intern Pamela Smith said in 2018, about why people like to take the time to plan new goals during spring. “For example, winter is associated with holidays, family and celebration. Autumn is synonymous with the beginning of a new school year. Spring is associated with new beginnings and new life — trees blooming, winter blues decreasing and the sun shining brighter and longer. And summer is representative of vacations, fun and relaxation.”

Smith earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Walden University and is a certified mediator in the state of Texas. Hope for Texoma is a Sherman-based organization that offers Christian counseling, wellness coaching, cognitive behavioral counseling, and marital and family counseling, along with ecletic counseling and more.

O’Banion says that when winter is ending, people often think about the ending of old ways. With spring comes new growth and a new start.

“People also think about Sunday evenings as being a natural period of change,” O’Bannon says about times when people naturally think changes should occur. “On Sunday evenings, people are thinking about the start of a new week.

Dreaming isn’t just for children. In some cases, dreaming means hopefulness

Goals are just dreams set to a time-bound plan.

“It is because we are often afraid of the disappointment of not reaching your goal,” O’Bannon says, breaking down the human psyche. “Goals help us dream. It is a good idea to make a ‘Be, Do, Have’ list. Write ten things of each type that you would like to complete in the next ten years. A lot of the time when we dream, it is hard to maintain focus or to make a dream into a goal.”