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4 Minutes Read

Three reasons why New Year’s Resolutions don’t work

As we approach the new year, you may find yourself thinking about how to create a “new you”. The tradition of New Year’s resolutions offer us an opportunity to start working toward some personal goals – but too often our efforts drop off by the end of January or February, and by summer, they are completely forgotten.

If you’ve found yourself frustrated in trying to stick to New Year’s resolutions in the past, you may have encountered one of the three pitfalls that frequently cause resolutions to lose steam. Understanding what they are can help you set yourself up for success if you’re planning to make resolutions at the new year.

1. They’re unrealistic

Setting a goal that is challenging can be rewarding, but setting a goal that is unlikely to be achievable is not helpful.

If you’re working and in college full time, you will soon find the goal of volunteering in your community twice a week to be overwhelming. If you’re learning to cook for the first time, deciding to make dinner for you and your partner by yourself every weeknight might get very stressful once the downtime of the New Year’s season ends.

Consider volunteer opportunities where you commit to an afternoon once a month, so you can plan to clear your schedule on that date and be fully present for the experience. You will get more out of it, compared to squeezing more activities into your already too busy weekly schedule.

Think about making your least busy day off work your cooking day. You’ll absorb more of the practice and have more time to experiment with what you like. You could also invite your partner to be part of the resolution with you – they can be your sous chef while you take the lead in creating the meal.

2. They’re too general

Too often I hear vague new year’s resolutions like “stop procrastinating” or “spend more time with friends”. These are great intentions, but once the year passes by will it really be clear if you’ve made progress on them?

Think about where procrastinating is affecting your life, and what you can do to resolve it. If you’ve been procrastinating taking care of your health, you might set the goal of seeing your primary care physician this year and following up with any specialist appointments they recommend you to schedule.

If you procrastinate going to sleep every night, resolve to tighten up your night time routine – set a time to turn off social media, create a getting ready for bed ritual, and when it’s your bedtime, be strict about turning the lights off. Making your intention actionable gives you a roadmap of how to get there.

Spending more time with friends could look like a lot of different things depending on your context – what specifically is achievable at this time in your life?

Maybe you want to plan to get together with a friend who lives nearby and walk your dogs together once a week. Maybe you want to FaceTime with a good friend who moved abroad on a more regular basis. Maybe you notice you’ve often let work get in the way of attending birthdays and other big celebrations, but this year you want that to change.

Being clear about what success will look like helps you direct your efforts and take action.

3. They’re based in “shoulds”

Many New Year’s resolutions are born out of social or societal pressure rather than true interest.

You should eat “better”, so you decide to go on a diet. You should lose weight, so you decide to start going to the gym. You should have saved more money by your age, so you decide to cut out fun and extras so everything other than your fixed costs go into savings.

But do you really feel like changing how you eat, or are you feeling shamed from following too many “wellness” accounts on Instagram? Will the discomfort inside you really be put to rest with a gym membership, or is it a sign you need to do some harder work of thinking about your relationship to your body?

Is increasing your savings the top priority for your life right now, or is that assumption based on the conventions of a different generation living in a different economic landscape?

Pursuing someone else’s goals will ultimately feel unsatisfying because you’re not living someone else’s life – you’re living yours. Being honest with yourself about what you want out of this year is key to spending your time meaningfully.

Change is often hard, even when it’s a change you want to make. If you’re undergoing a season of growth, therapy is an invaluable place to get support. Click the button below to set up a free phone consultation – I’d love to tell you more about how we might work together during this time of transition.


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