After a decade of setting resolutions, I realised that they had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with how I looked to everyone else.
Get fit. Save money. Eat healthier. I’ll admit, these are all annual pledges that I’ve frantically scribbled in a post-Christmas haze. Except for this year. Because I’ve decided to ditch New Year’s resolutions altogether.
As the new year fast approaches, it’s common for us to feel the resolution-itch start to surface. Whether you see it as a clean slate, a blank page, or another opportunity to try again, January one brings with it the idea that we can magically transform into our unicorn-selves within a 365 day deadline.
And in the age of our self-improvement fixation, it’s worth asking if setting lofty resolutions is simply another source of anxiety that comes back to haunt us come December?
A few weeks ago, I concluded that 2020 was going to my year. After three years of wrestling with an autoimmune condition and finally reaching a state of recovery, I was desperate to make up for the lost time. From my perfectly curated Pinterest boards, to a slew of self-help purchases, I could see my new reality begin to take shape.
The final step was booking an appointment with my psychologist. Her job was to help me build a roadmap to get there. With my pen and paper at the ready, in a strange turn of events, I got the exact opposite of what I came for. Instead, I was prescribed a “much-needed dose of fun.” My only homework was to try a new activity each day, get plenty of rest, and think about the core values I hold for work, relationships, and my wellbeing.
Confusing at first? Yes. Liberating? Yes!
After years of feeling a strong sense of guilt for the goals that sat unaccomplished on my list, what I hadn’t recognised was the toll it had taken on my self-esteem. While I couldn’t have predicted being sick when setting these resolutions, I still felt a strong sense of failure when reflecting on how little progress I had made towards them.
Instead of celebrating all the other achievements that had happened — being happy at work, having a healthy marriage, and investing in my mental health — I was holding myself accountable to old goals that were no longer relevant to my current situation.
In short, the idea of ditching resolutions can allow us to focus on our needs and values instead of only focusing on our output — or in other words, what our lives look like to the rest of the world.
Lysn psychologist, Noosha Anzab, has similar ideas around setting goals for the new year.
“I always tell my clients to scrap their resolutions and work on morals, values, and principles instead. If we explore values and make meaningful goals based on these, we may be able to align our focus more on what’s important to us, rather than expectations or demands.”
If the idea of ditching resolutions feels strange, it could be because it’s so ingrained in our cultural sinew. Historians believe that the Babylonians were at the forefront of this trend around 4,000 years ago. When celebrating the new year, they would make promises to the gods. If these promises were kept, favour would be bestowed on them for the coming year.
Fast forward to today, and with research suggesting that in the US alone less than 25 per cent of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only eight per cent accomplish them, it’s safe to assume that we may need to consider a new way to build towards positive change in our lives.
You can still set goals
Saying goodbye to an ambitious resolution list doesn’t mean you can’t start the year in a mindful way. Instead, Anzab suggests setting goals that are focused on building better habits (regardless of the time of year).
“Thinking about resolutions versus goals is the ultimate way to distinguish healthy and unhealthy resolutions. Whilst resolutions are basically perfect solutions to our not-so-perfect habits, goal setting focuses more on forming better habits, changing behaviour and taking action. Unhealthy resolutions are grand ideas of what we should be doing whilst healthy resolutions are a string of tiny goals for the year that lead to better overall health and success.”
While there’s nothing inherently wrong about setting resolutions (whether you achieve them or not) it’s worth assessing the impact unfulfilled resolutions can have on our sense of identity. Even if you don’t end up saving as much as you thought due to unforeseeable circumstances, or you’re fitness plan plateaus due to conflicting priorities, there is an emancipation that comes with knowing your year can still productive, healthy and fulfilling.
Anzab concludes perfectly, “Taking care of your health, both physically and mentally is far more important than a resolution. Instead of rebirthing yourself, scrap the list and be kind to yourself. Setting boundaries, being a little selfish and allowing yourself to enjoy the tidings without expectation could be much better for you than setting a resolution for the New Year.”