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The problem with January: High expectations, pressure and disappointments

January 9, 2023
By Laura Mandell

A worker carrying the weight of the world on their back. Photo: Adobe Stock

January is a loaded month. While it’s the start of a new calendar year, it’s also the beginning of a time that denotes a marked shift from the preceding period, bringing with it some very high expectations of ourselves and others. Invariably, those very high expectations can generate self-induced pressures and disappointments.

Some of the obvious January “red flags”:

  1. Holiday hollows: A season of celebrations and gatherings has passed and as people get back into their “normal” routine there can be a palpable void or loneliness making it a mentally and emotionally challenging time.
  2. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): The impact of winter’s shorter days and longer nights are well-documented—for many, battling the low mood of the season is a daunting task that weighs heavily on personal and professional life.
  3. Stress and fatigue: The ramp-up to the holidays is often an intense crunch time around workplace deadlines in advance of closures and vacations. As people get back into post-holiday routines, the push to play catch-up can lead to fatigue and burnout.
  4. Blue Monday: The third week in January is said to be the most depressing day of the year as looming credit card statements come in and all the other elements of post-holiday/new year/winter realities converge. While not based in science, it certainly bears truth. CAMH has a “Blue Monday Survival Guide” worth a read.
  5. The final quarter: For many organizations/companies, January marks the start of their final fiscal quarter bringing with it pressures to meet or exceed quotas.
  6. New Year’s resolutions: The tendency to create New Year’s resolutions is a longstanding social reality. In the absence of realistic, sustainable, supported goals, they can (and often do) lead to failure, including the accompanying mental and emotional impacts. New Year’s resolutions have been around for thousands of years, but the impetus and execution is rooted in many different beliefs. The History Channel has a great piece on this if you want to learn more and a Harvard lecturer also shared some thoughts about the problem of resolutions.

While setting out to do things differently or seeking to get better results for yourself or your team is a wonderful idea, the reality is that it’s never as simple as making that change just as the clock ticks one second after midnight on Jan. 1. In work and in life we generally strive to create systems that set us up for success.

We develop over time

As human beings we develop over time. We learn from our families and friends, we go to school and create building blocks, we apprentice or intern and acquire the skills to become or do things with increasing capability and success.


We hone our crafts. We attain feedback and guidance from others. We function as individuals and as part of teams. Hopefully, throughout our journey, we learn from our mistakes and follow paths that are increasingly attuned with our strengths, passions and impact.

The modus operandi personally and professionally is one of trial, error, learning, growth and continuance.

There’s research, strategy, planning. There’s action and evaluation against operations and goals, and then further changes or optimizations towards a path or destination.

We demonstrate tremendous capacity to understand and function in a space of logic, strategy and compassion when it comes to the time, effort and flexibility required to successfully achieve personal or professional goals — yet when our calendars flip to January, many of us will go above and beyond only to set ourselves and our teams up for failure — and with such encouraged motivation and fervour.

Artificial starting point

The problem with January is that it’s an artificial starting point, a false marker of a starting line in an imaginary race wherein the odds are inherently not stacked in anyone’s favour given the challenges outlined above.

Want January to be different? Make February through December different as well. Approach January simply as a tollgate in an ongoing journey. Asking yourself, your team, or anyone for that matter, to set off on a path to new/different/greater in the face of inherent challenges that come with January runs counter to the very building blocks of success that we rely on from birth and beyond.

We’ve come a long way in acknowledging the need for support in mental health and wellness over the last several years, largely due to the pandemic. As we embark on a new year, let’s not lose sight of anything we’ve learned.

Let’s get through January, one day at a time, saying “no” to setting ourselves up for failure and “yes” to creating and building strategies, plans, KPIs, supportive networks and celebratory milestones as the foundations we lay and building blocks we stack to yield optimal results and real success.

Laura Mandell is a communications leader and a Canadian Yoga Alliance-certified Meditation Teacher.

Tips for creating a better January

  • Renew, refresh, repeat: Encourage employees to use their vacation time and build on any gains around rest and renewal.
  • Promote available support programs: Communicate about EAPs and other wellness offerings frequently and encourage their use or participation.
  • Create a culture of celebration: Recognize successes and regularly communicate good news and achievements of all sizes.

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