(CMR) Starting a new year can be exciting, and many are accustomed to making resolutions, especially when the previous year was challenging. While resolutions may seem ideal, they may not be so good for your mental health.
New Year’s resolutions increase stress.
Unrealistic New Year’s resolutions will only multiply the angst we feel, according to Dr. Susan Anders in a WYKC interview:
“When we think too far into the future, that raises our anxiety… Instead, focus on the process goal. These are things you can write down and do every day that you have control over… that will lead to that outcome goal. Just make sure to make your mental health a priority this year. Put that on the resolution list [as] something you can do to take care of yourself.’” (Ujek, 2020).
Dr. Anders also advises readers to make small, realistic tweaks rather than setting large-scale goals, as well as “to remain flexible and think day-to-day” in the article.
It’s similar to the way Alcoholics Anonymous advises members to take it “one day at a time.” Thinking in terms of “today only” keeps you focused on the present. Conversely, ruminating on the past or future-tripping can bring on anxiety and depression.
New Year’s resolutions cause us to focus on the “Wrong” things
Wilmington psychologist Dr. Erika Geisler agrees with taking an alternate approach to New Year’s resolutions. In an interview with WWAY, Geisler said:
“’I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I think that you are setting yourself up for failure if you think that you are never going to eat carbs again or that you are going to work out seven days a week.
“Instead, I think that you should have something that you focus on… something that you are intentional about. Maybe that is a word, maybe it is a concept. For example, maybe your word to focus on would be ‘adventure’ or maybe the concept is spending more undivided attention with your children… Remember, wherever we put our focus, that is what grows.'” (Gregory, 2021)
Geisler says that if we focus on good things, they will grow. Focusing on the negative, however, will lead to us only seeing the negative.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the United Kingdom mental health charity Mind, also emphasized how important focus is. “Resolutions that focus on issues such as the need to lose weight or job worries create a negative self-image. And if the plans fail to materialize, that could trigger feelings of failure and inadequacy,” he said.
Farmer suggests that we forgo the New Year’s resolutions in favor of positively thinking about the new year, focusing on what we can achieve.
New Year’s Resolutions Can Set You Up for Failure
A 2018 Statista survey found that, of the 54% making New Year’s resolutions, only a paltry four percent said they achieved all of them. (Statista Research Department, 2019)
Why is it so hard to keep those resolutions? Typically, it’s because they are unrealistic and too broad.
For example, saying “I will get in shape” is nebulous and has no measurable outcome. Small goals, such as “lose five pounds” or “lift weights three times a week” are more attainable because they are concrete, seem more achievable, and are probably easier to reach because of that.
In fact, New Year’s resolutions don’t typically come from a positive mental place. Focusing on what you feel may be “wrong” with your life can be detrimental – especially if you don’t fulfill those resolutions.
When most people don’t make good on those resolutions, how healthy is it to continue making them? In a way, you are setting yourself up for failure. Why let your self-esteem take the hit? It could even bring on anxiety and depression… and you certainly don’t need that.
What Should You Do Instead?
-Focus on what’s right. What are you grateful for? What do you have that is an advantage? Even being alive is something to be appreciative of – each day is a new chance to make your life what you would like it to be.
-See how far you’ve come. Look back over the past year at the progress you’ve made. Reflect on your successes, and let them motivate you to keep moving in the right direction.
-Look at your own paper. Compare yourself only to yourself. You will never be anyone else but you… and that’s a good thing. How boring would it be if we were all the same? All you can really strive for is to be the best that you can be – not like your friends, your sponsor, a celebrity, or a sports figure. The best you is more than enough – in fact, you, exactly the way you are, is more than enough! This one can be easy to forget, particularly when looking at social media. Yet many carefully curate their messages; no one’s life could be problem-free. On your side, you know everything about your life, inside and out, so it doesn’t make sense to compare that full knowledge with the partial, skewed view you see of others’ lives as portrayed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, et al.
-Set smaller, more attainable goals. Again, as the AA slogan says, “one day at a time.” So what can you do today toward that goal of exercising three times a week? Maybe take a walk at lunch or after dinner. Or perhaps buy some weights at home, do an online workout, or plan to go to the gym.
-Remember, occasional slips are part of the process. If you beat yourself up too much over a mistake, you are in danger of giving up on your goals altogether. Again, no one is perfect, and trying to chase perfectionism is dangerous. Instead, think about everything you’ve done and how far you’ve come, and pick yourself up and keep going in the right direction.
Be kind to yourself as we embark on a brand new year.
(Adopted from the Foundation Wellness Center)