As the year draws to a close, I often find myself reflecting on the events of the year, assessing whether I used my year well. Did I meet my goals? Could I have achieved more? How can I do better in 2016? For me, thinking in this way is hard to resist, and I dare say, something experienced by most everyone!
This kind of thinking is what motivates people to set New Year’s resolutions, a post-holiday tradition in which people attempt to convince themselves that in this will be the year that they get fit, eat healthy, lose weight, quit smoking, save money, et cetera!
About 40% of Americans set a New Year’s resolution each year, setting goals to be a happier, healthier, more productive version of themselves as quickly as you can write them in your feelings journal (which you are totally doing this year). Yet, research shows that only about 8% of people stick to their resolutions, with 25% of people giving up on them within the first week!
Despite this unsurprising failure rate, many of us will continue to buy into the ritual of subjecting ourselves to unobtainable goals of self-improvement. To save yourself from this soul-destroying custom, your best resolution might be to give up resolutions altogether! Here are some reasons why:
You’re setting the wrong goals
A lot of people’s New Year’s resolutions revolve around health and physical fitness. You tell yourself that this is going to be the year that you’ll finally lose that unsightly belly fat or start running every single morning at the break of dawn! Yet, setting goals in this way is setting you up for failure when you can’t always make it to the gym five times a week.
Making absolute statements about what we are going to do doesn’t leave much wiggle room for when we fall short, and failure to meet these expectation is likely to discourage future progress. Once we fail, we not only see our goals as harder to reach, but we’re inclined to perceive ourselves as less capable of reaching them. So, while your New Year's resolution might be seem like its making you a better you in January, it’s actually harming you the next eleven months of the year.
You haven’t changed your mindset
During the first week, your resolution to hit the gym four days a week is a triumph! You feel great, getting up bright and early, but soon then motivation begins to dwindle. After all, it’s January and it’s really cold outside, and an extra hour in your warm, cosy bed is much more inviting!
Making resolutions requires a change in behavior, but this needs to be accompanied by a change in thinking. When you’re not seeing immediate results, you perceive your new habit as a chore, motivation begins to flag, and you invariably give up on yourself.
To sustain real change, take the approach that your resolution is a lifestyle change, a new way of living your life, and consider the multiple benefits that come along with healthier habits. Make change a little less challenging by breaking down your bigger goals into smaller, more manageable actions. Celebrate your victories, and focus on the process instead of the end result!
You’re not addressing the real problem
Losing weight is always a struggle, but if you’re planning on joining a gym on January 1st, you’ll have to face all the hoards of other people who are doing the same. Not only will you have to wait for a spot on the treadmill, but you will subconsciously comparing yourself against the person on the next treadmill.
At the gym, there are always reasons to feel that you don’t measure up. Our deep-seated psychological issues with inadequacy, insecurity and rejection that lead to unhealthy behavior in the first place remain unaddressed.
Instead of hoping that six-pack abs will magically fix your low self-esteem, you should work on addressing the sense of inadequacy that make you feel that you need to change yourself. You may be able to stick to your resolution and get rid of those love handles, but the feelings of loneliness, guilt or anger remain and are likely to manifest in other ways.
You’re sharing your resolutions with other people
People are usually aware that real life-changing transformation can be tough and often involves sacrifice and unpopular choices. Yet, when making a promise to yourself to make a big change, it invariably takes the place of the action required to sustain the change. It’s as if making that promise will somehow magically transform your life, just by uttering the words.
Research shows that people who post their resolutions on Facebook, or tell others what they intend to do, they get a premature sense of completeness. In other words, sharing your resolutions with others provides a similar satisfaction to achieving the goal itself. The energy needed to sustain your new habit is already half spent, undermining your efforts long before the strike of midnight!
While keeping your resolutions to yourself is good, a case can be made for public accountability to keep you on track. Instead of telling people what your are going to to, share with them what you are doing already! Be creative, such as documenting your progress on Instagram, or writing an anonymous blog expressing the ups and downs of your weight-loss journey.
While self-improvement is a worthy goal, it is self-defeating to focus on short-term solutions that fail to provide us with the real, long-lasting benefits. Focusing on overall happiness or showing gratitude can be a low-stakes, though extremely transformational way to make a big impact in your quality of life!