It’s hard to go from eating apps and drinking at 11:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve to suddenly resolving to eat healthier 30 minutes later when the clock strikes 12:00. And yet, every year, millions of people write down resolutions that focus on fitness, finances, family — the list goes on. Thing is, you should probably resolve yourself to not making New Year’s resolutions, because it actually might be better for you.
For the most part, resolutions revolve around the same basic ideas: eat better, exercise, be more mindful about money, and spend quality time with the kiddos. Those are all admirable goals, for sure, but putting them into practice for the long haul is what often stops your resolution from becoming a reality. (There’s even a name for it: Quitter’s Day, and it’s the second Friday in January.) “Resolutions are objectives that we set for ourselves to better our lives and achieve personal growth,” explains Gary Tucker, Chief Clinical Officer and Licensed Psychotherapist at D’Amore Mental Health. “They’re frequently made with great zeal and optimism, but many people fail to keep them.”
But why, with about 40% of people making resolutions — and only 8% sticking to them — do New Year’s resolutions fail to stick? Here’s what the experts have to say.
At their core, New Year’s resolutions are well intentioned. They acknowledge the fact that some areas of your life need improvement, but that doesn’t mean you have to go all-in when making them. “Creating a long list of New Year’s resolutions causes intimidation and overwhelm,” explains Amy Braun, a licensed clinical professional counselor. “Trying to tackle too many areas at once will ultimately lead to not accomplishing much at all.” So try creating a laundry list of ways in which you want to improve your life, try setting smaller, more attainable goals instead.
They Don’t Allow You To Enjoy The Journey
Ultimately, resolutions are meant to make your life better, not worse. When you’re only eyeing the end goal, though, you’re missing all the smaller miracles along the way. “Instead of focusing solely on the end result, it’s important to celebrate small wins and enjoy the journey,” adds Braun. “This perspective can lead to a more positive and fulfilling experience, even if you don’t meet your resolution exactly as you had planned.” If you want to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans, you should be proud of yourself as you work towards wellness — and not be concerned about the number on the scale.
They Create A Sense Of Urgency
When you make a resolution, you might want to see results right away. Thing is, resolutions are never a fast fix and can take time to manifest. “New Year’s resolutions can create an unnecessary sense of pressure and expectation,” explains Sal Raichbach, LCSW, PsyD, Chief Clinical Officer at Haven Health Management. “Suddenly, you feel like you have to achieve these things or else you’ve failed.” Not only does this add extra stress to your life but it can also strip you of the pleasure you can get from the actual act of goal setting. And counterintuitively, you might come to hate working towards your goals, and as Raichbach points out, “It will feel like a chore.”
That’s why you might want to rethink the timeline you may be placing on your resolutions and create intentions. “Intentions are more about the journey and the process, while resolutions tend to focus solely on the end result,” Raichbach adds. “For example, instead of setting a resolution to lose 20 pounds by the end of the year, you could set an intention to prioritize your health and make healthier choices throughout the year.”
You’re a parent, so that means you’re tired. All the time. So when the kids finally go to bed and you plan to work out as one of your resolutions, (when you’re used to scrolling on social media), it can be setting yourself up for failure. Why? Well, resolutions require you to come out of your comfort zone, which isn’t something anyone really wants to do. “Making changes involves discomfort, which is often not the image we had in our mind when setting a New Year’s resolution,” says Kirstie Wright, a cognitive behavioral therapist and psychotherapist. “So really think through what you are willing to go through to meet that goal.” It could mean missing out on a fun Girls Night because you have to study for a final or getting up extra early to get in your steps. Whatever it might be, your resolution means changing your habits and as we know, habits can be hard to break.
They Can Make You Feel Bad About Yourself
You made a New Year’s resolution to be a calmer, more mindful parent. All it takes is one toddler morning meltdown to make you lose your sh*t, and (womp womp), there goes your resolution. While you shouldn’t throw away your intention based on one incident, it might make you want to pause and see if your resolutions are right for your peace of mind. “Resolutions can create rigid and perfectionist standards, which can impact feelings of self-worth,” says Kim Hertz, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist in New York City. “Choosing to find more meaningful and sustainable ways to set and achieve goals can have more durable and positive outcomes.” Since resolutions can wreak havoc on your self-esteem, see if there are ways to adapt them so that you can accomplish them without feeling like you’re not strong enough to make them happen.
They Can Be Too Rigid
Sure, setting a goal might be a good idea, but what isn’t is fixating on a specific result so that you don’t see other possible outcomes along the way. “Resolutions, in its most rigid form, are limiting expectations of ourselves that are rarely sustainable,” says Natalie Bunner, LCSW-BACS, CCTP, a licensed clinical social worker. For example, you might want to lose weight so badly that you resort to drastic (and unhealthy) measures that aren’t the best for your well-being. Instead, you might want to check out that Pilates class you’ve wanted to try out as another way to reach your goals — and weight loss will be a benefit to something that adds pleasure to your life.
So instead of sticking strictly to resolutions, be intentional about your life goals. “Setting intentions allows for more flexibility and self-compassion,” says Raichbach. “It’s natural for our goals and priorities to change throughout the year, and by setting intentions, we give ourselves room to adapt and grow.” That way, you won’t be relegated to resolutions that might reflect a former version of yourself and not the person you’re becoming.
They Might Be Too Big To Accomplish
If you don’t know where to start, it’s time to get SMART, according to Sarah F. O’Brien, LCSW, LCSW-C, CCATP, CTMH, a licensed clinical social worker and Clinical Director/owner of Thrive & Shine Counseling.” If you are going to set a resolution, then using the SMART acronym for goal setting can help you in actually reaching your desired outcome,” she says. “Setting lofty goals without accounting for steps to make it reasonably obtainable ends up being disappointing and deflating, and this will kill motivation fast!” SMART stands for:
Once you’ve narrowed down your specific goal, you’ll need to create measurable (and achievable) steps in order to get your resolution off the ground. So if you want to get your house in order once and for all, try setting a smaller goal to clean up the kids’ toys — so that you won’t step on any more damn LEGOs. Be sure that it’s relevant to what you want, and ultimately, create a realistic timeline to accomplish it.
It Might Not Be What You Actually Want
Family is at the forefront of so many New Year’s resolutions. But when you have a toxic relationship with a relative, is it worth it to bring them back into your life? Not necessarily, says Wright. “Sometimes we set goals based on what we think we should be doing rather than what we care about,” explains Wright. “Ask yourself — ‘Do I really want this goal?’” Whether it’s patching things up with a parent or considering a new career because your BFF got a promotion, it might be worthwhile to check in with yourself to see if your resolutions align with what you really want your life to be like.
Braun agrees, adding: “The pressure to create New Year’s resolutions may lead you to hastily create resolutions that lack personal significance and that you will ultimately not obtain.”
They’re Too Vague
Lose weight. Stop getting those insufficient funds fees once and for all. New Year’s resolutions are often bigger picture goals that involve broad strokes to make them happen. But without a step-by-step plan, your goal to get a house this year will be a lot harder to achieve. “So often people set lofty goals for themselves with no real plan as to how to go about achieving them,” explains Jillian Amadio, LMSW, a licensed mental health professional and founder of Moms For Mental Health. “Small steps that are actionable and achievable lead to habits, confidence, and results that drive us to continue making steps toward future change.” While resolutions can be both big and small, (such as cleaning out your master closet, for example), map out a plan of how you plan to tackle your targeted goal.
They Can Cause Shame
Having someone to hold you accountable in achieving your goals can be beneficial, but when your well-meaning mom asks you how your job search is going (and it’s going nowhere), it can make you feel even worse. “We tend to see the act as a way to stay in step with our social circles,” Bunner explains. “This compounds the challenge with resolutions, which is making changes that are based on the expectations of others. So, in addition to experiencing a sense of failure intrinsically, they are also experiencing shame from falling behind their friends or family.” Although you don’t have to keep your resolutions to yourself, think twice with whom you share them (and how committed you are to completing them) before sharing them, say, on social media.
They Can Cause Analysis Paralysis
You were so inspired when you were writing down your resolutions that you included everything but the kitchen sink (and the dirty dishes in them) to your list. Seeing so many things that you want to make right in your life might stop you even before you’ve even really started. “We tend to shoot for the moon with these asks, thinking that our acute willpower will magically create this capacity to meet these new goals,” explains Bunner. “When it doesn’t happen, we either experience paralysis by analysis — not able to move forward due to fear — or use the perceived failure as a reason not to try at all.” So even if you want to have a few resolutions for the New Year, you might want to stick to a single one so that you can make it a reality.
“Instead of setting overreaching resolutions, maybe focus on one or two specific and achievable goals, with a clear plan of action to reach them,” adds Heather Wilson LCSW, LCADC, CCTP, the Executive Director at Epiphany Wellness. “With smaller, more attainable objectives, you’re setting yourself up for incremental growth and improvement rather than an all-or-nothing mindset.”
If you’re used to making New Year’s resolutions, it can be hard to not make any at all. But if you do decide to give it a go, try to see them in a different light. Target one or two intentions that you’d like to implement into your lifestyle. And if you ditch them altogether, that’s okay, too. After all, there’s always another January 1st to start all over again…if you want to, that is.