Why Setting New Year's Resolutions Is a Bad Idea

As we turn our attention to the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, a lot of people will jump on the old New Year’s resolution bandwagon. Most people choose fitness goals, but others choose mental health, career, or relationship ones.

Personally, I don’t believe in resolutions. I think they’re a bad idea and even have the potential to do more harm than good. Here’s why.

We Set End Game Goals

Many people don’t know how to set a useful goal. They think in terms of absolutes and the goal itself rather than how they’ll achieve it.

For example, a common New Year’s resolution is weight loss. Usually something along the lines of “I will lose 20 pounds in 10 weeks.”

On the surface, this sounds like a great goal, right? It’s close to a SMART one (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based). The goal-setter has the specific amount of weight they want to lose, and when they want to lose it. Losing two pounds per week is achievable and realistic.

However, what that goal is missing is the “how.” Just how, exactly are they going to achieve it?

Will they start exercising? Change up their current routine? Try a new diet? Track their calories or macros? Some combination of all these?

When your resolution lacks a road map to reach it, you’re much more likely to not follow through. You’re also more likely to get discouraged if you don’t see the progress you want or if you backslide a bit.

That means you’re more likely to give up, following the familiar cycle of commitment → small setback → giving up → guilt → trying again next year that so many people fall into each February.

What To Do Instead

Rather than setting one end goal as your resolution, look at the habits behind your actions that got you to where you are now, in this place that you want to change.

For example, instead of saying, “I want to lose 20 pounds in 10 weeks,” ask yourself questions. How did I gain those 20 pounds in the first place? What habits do I have that contribute to my current lifestyle?

Do you scroll social media in bed endlessly instead of using that time to exercise? Do you eat while you watch television so you’re not tuning in to your body’s fullness cues? Do you lack the necessary cooking skills to prepare nutritious meals and so rely on takeout?

Once you figure out why you are where you are, you can begin dismantling those harmful habits, one small step at a time.

Instead of scrolling, try sleeping with your phone across the room, perhaps even hidden beneath your workout clothes. Turn off the TV when eating meals and pause halfway through to evaluate whether or not you’re still hungry. Take an online cooking class or watch YouTube videos to learn easy hacks to make cooking a breeze.

Making these small-yet-powerful changes to your habits will shift your life in the direction you want to go far more effectively than a single, far away, unguided resolution.

We Forget About Our Past Accomplishments

New Year’s resolutions are about trying to change something in our lives for the better. Whether we want to stop avoiding something (deep cleaning the closets or clearing out your inbox), stop doing a certain coping mechanism (eating, drinking, smoking, shopping), or start doing something new (journaling, exercising, meditating), the goal is change.

Don’t get me wrong, change is great. Looking forward to new and exciting things and trying to improve yourself as a human is excellent. We should all definitely be putting effort into being a better person than we were the day before.

The problem with resolutions specifically, however, is that they don’t allow us the space to think about everything we accomplished in the previous year.

We get so caught up in the “I’m going to make XYZ sweeping change next year!” and forget about all the wins—big and little—that we already had. Then, when we become a member of the 80% that give up by mid-February, the guilt is compounded.

What To Do Instead

Before you ring in the New Year, get out a piece of paper or a journal. Write down every single accomplishment you can remember from the year you just lived. Everything counts, here, folks.

Include people you’ve met, projects you’ve completed, and things you’ve learned. Challenges you knocked out of the park. Life lessons. Write a long list—nothing is too big or small.

Did you finally get around to tidying up the living room? Write it down. Did you make an effort to eat a full serving of vegetables at dinner? It counts. Did you get a promotion or start a new business? You bet that needs to be in there. Did you move homes or end a toxic relationship or stand up to someone? It’s all goin’ on that list, friends.

If you’re having trouble thinking of things to include or are the type that’s a bit too hard on yourself, ask a friend or family member. They can help point out or remind you of things you did you may have forgotten or don’t think should count.

Writing down your accomplishments will go a long way toward encouraging you and lowering your anxiety about where you think you “have” to go in the New Year.

Then, when you’re all fired up about how far you’ve come, that’s the time to think about what habits you want to change. When you’re empowered by what you’ve already done, those changes won’t seem like such a daunting task.

We Set Resolutions That Don't Align With Ourselves

Often, New Year’s resolutions are influenced by trends, the media, or our environment and social circles. It’s not a coincidence that 50% of resolutions are to exercise more.

So it makes sense that the percentage of people who give up on their goals is so high. You can’t change your habits and thinking patterns to something that inherently doesn’t align with who you are.

For example, let’s say you hop on that exercise bandwagon. You set the resolution that you’re going to go to the gym three days per week.

BUT you hate working out in front of other people, organized fitness classes are a nightmare for you, and you have no idea how to use a stair machine but don’t want to ask and look like a total newbie. Going to the gym just isn’t going to work for you.

Or, say your resolution is to get a promotion at work by next quarter. BUT you don’t really like your job, your boss has never really been in your corner, and you’ve kind of always wanted to start your own business anyway. Perhaps a promotion isn’t the right resolution for you.

What To Do Instead

After you write down your impressive list of accomplishments, get out a new sheet of paper. On this one, write down your values and beliefs. What’s most important to you? What do you want your life to look like?

Do you value growth and challenges? Do you prioritize work or home life? Do you want more free time to engage with your hobbies, to be able to retire earlier, or to begin practices that will help you age well?

There are no wrong answers here, people. No one has to see this list but you. The point is to dig deep and figure out what you really want.

Then, once you’re clear on where you want your life to go, you can figure out the steps you need to take to get you there. You can circle back to the first part of this article and examine the habits that are preventing you from making progress.

Ditch the Resolutions Cycle for Good

When you ditch the New Year’s resolution cycle, you’ll clear your mind for smaller, actionable changes to your habits you can actually achieve. Each “small” goal you crush will energize you to tackle the next one, and the next one, and the next one.

Before you know it, you’ll have made lasting, permanent change in your life. No resolutions required.

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