New Rules for New Year’s Resolutions

It sometimes feels like all anyone talks about come January are New Year’s resolutions. Most people I know make some sort of resolution every year. But, when I asked around, many didn’t really have a reason for why they do this. My favourite answer? “It’s always nice to fail at something within the first week of the year.”

New Year’s resolutions in particular have become a sort of cultural expectation. I get that  the external hurrah surrounding New Year’s resolutions and the sense of community that comes with it provides a boost of motivation to achieve them, but, are they actually working?

While 41% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, of those who make them, 42.4% fail each year, and 48.4% have “infrequent success”. Only 9.2% actually consider themselves successful. Less than ten percent!

A quick Google search uncovered that there are a few particularly common resolutions:

  • Get healthy (or similarly, lose weight, start dieting, exercise more, etc.)
  • Get organized
  • Live life to the fullest
  • Learn new hobbies
  • Spend less/save more
  • Travel
  • Read more

While 41% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, of those who make them, 42.4% fail each year, and 48.4% have “infrequent success”. Only 9.2% actually consider themselves successful. Less than ten percent!

Reading this list, my first thought was about how many of these sound like things that other people tell you to do. They read, at least to me, more like recognizable cliches or tag-lines than they do as achievable goals.

In my opinion, it seems like oftentimes people are not making resolutions for themselves – at least, not because they actually want to. After all, the holidays and the hustle around the new year are so geared toward social (and consumer) influences. Parties, family gatherings, and all the other traditions we partake in mean that we’re particularly aware of other people’s opinions of us, and their external influences. Even, and especially, if we don’t want them. Think of the Saturday Night Live ‘Hello’ sketch about dealing with family over Thanksgiving. That pressure alone is dread-inducing.

Self improvement, goal setting, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone are all great. But in order for any of that stuff to work, you have to actually want to achieve the goal you’re working towards.

Before you make any resolutions, ask yourself why. Am I doing this because I am motivated about improving myself? Because I feel the need to feign productivity after spending the holiday behaving a bit like a sloth? Because I need something to make small talk about with my coworkers? Because I overheard that one person in my class talking about how they spent their weekend meditating and journalling, and I’ve spontaneously decided that I also need to be doing that?

Similarly, if goal setting or resolutions aren’t working for you, you don’t need to make them. Maybe a daily task list is more your thing. Maybe you track your habits and moods, or set monthly or quarterly goals, or maybe you make resolutions in February instead of January.

There’s also nothing wrong with changing things up. If you get a few months into the year and realize that the goal-setting system you chose isn’t working, take some time to figure out what you want to change and tailor your approach accordingly. Whatever your approach, make sure that you’re setting goals that you want to achieve, because you want to achieve them.

That’s not to say that New Year’s resolutions should be debunked altogether. The fact that 48% of people had intermittent success is significant, and if you’re one of those people who has success with resolutions, absolutely keep doing what you’re doing.

For some people, the pressure and expectations that come with New Year’s resolutions may be detrimental to their mental health. For others, it’s that same pressure that motivates them, and ends up being a catalyst to them achieving their goals.

For example, resolutions such as “get healthy” and “live life to the fullest” could be triggering, or maybe just not possible for people struggling with their mental health. If this is the case for you, there are so many other resolutions you can make in the name of better self-care and improving your mental wellbeing, especially if you make more specific goals than the seemingly all-encompassing “get healthy”.

Ultimately, New Year’s resolutions should feel good, and if they inspire you to do better, stick with it. If it can connect you to like-minded people or communities that share your goals, even better. But if setting resolutions is just going to make you feel frustrated, disappointed, or anxious, ditch them altogether. Do whatever you need to do to get yourself through the next year in one (hopefully happy and healthy) piece.

Note: If none of this speaks to you, The Daily Beast’s Emrys Westacott poses an interesting, yet potentially disaster-producing idea in the latter part of this article. For those of us who enjoy external motivation, and a competitive spirit, this may work for you.

Want to talk about your goals or concerns about the upcoming year with an empathetic listener? 
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