Another new year, another new New Year’s resolution.
With every January comes a fresh new start, a new beginning, an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. It’s near impossible to resist the urge to announce, ‘this year will be different!’
Those five minutes on the 1st of January, when you pick up pen and paper and frantically jot down your goals for the coming twelve months, is an intoxicating time of hope. Of wonder. Of determined, dogged enthusiasm. In fact, just writing down that list feels like an achievement in itself.
However, according to Forbes magazine, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the beginning of February. Not because those people didn’t truly want to better themselves or their life, but because they were likely starting from the wrong place.
Can writing a New Year’s resolution list be detrimental to your mental health? And how can you reframe it to inspire you, instead of filling you with dread?
I’m a fiction author, creative consultant, and lecturer — which makes me an expert on lofty dreams and resilience. It also means I’m very used to setting goals and not giving up until I reach them (or, in many cases, not allowing the struggle to reach those goals to define my self-worth).
On the 28th December 2021, I wrote a New Year’s resolution-type list. I did it publicly, on Twitter, and I called it ‘My 2022 aims’.
It was a list of aspirations, goals, wishes I was projecting out into the world. I wasn’t resolute, I didn’t know if I’d get to tick them all off, but I was hopeful.
In less than a year I had achieved them all (and then some).
How? Read on…
The answer to achieving all your year’s goals can be quite simple:
1. Be kind to yourself
2. Be realistic
3. Be resilient
Be kind to yourself
If you’re starting your New Year’s resolution by staring at yourself in the mirror and hating what you see — stop!
Writing your New Year’s resolution list from a place of self-loathing, rather than self-compassion, means you are increasing your chances of being one of the 80% who will give up before they’ve really got going.
After all, if you haven’t spent the last year being kind to yourself, writing it down on a piece of paper isn’t going to magically make you change overnight.
When you choose a goal (i.e., losing weight) based on self-hatred, what is most likely to happen when you write down ‘lose weight’ is your thoughts may become overly self-critical. Then, when you eat a piece of cake, you might start thinking of yourself as greedy, a failure who will never get healthy, and believe New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time.
When you approach your goal setting in this way, the belief that New Year’s resolutions make your life worse becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will feel angry, down, disappointed, and only fuel that self-loathing more.
Not great for your mental health!
For instance, for years the first thing on my New Year’s resolution list would be ‘finish writing my novel’. I had just started writing, I wasn’t as fast back then as I am now, and I had no idea what I was doing. I would reach the end of the year, look at my half-finished book and tell myself I would never be a published author.
The real reason I hadn’t finished my book in a year wasn’t because New Year’s resolutions don’t work, but because it was always going to take me longer than a year to write my first novel (I did it in the end).
What I wasn’t considering was that every year I added that resolution to the list I was learning. Every year I was adding more words to my document. Every year I was getting closer to achieving that huge resolution.
Which is why you need to…
Whatever you choose to put on your list, creating a plan of action that breaks your approach down month by month makes it much more likely for you to reach your goal by the end of that year.
In the case of my book, I should have been kinder to myself and written ‘increase your weekly word count’ on my list, or ‘attend a writing class’. Smaller goals that are more easily attainable would have eventually led me to my larger ‘finish that book’ goal — but been a lot better for my mental health.
You can apply the same approach to any New Year’s resolution.
For instance, planning to be more present on LinkedIn, deciding to apply for a new job per week, and improving your networking skills is more realistic than writing down ‘get a new job that earns double the salary’, and then reaching November and getting upset with yourself that it didn’t happen.
A New Year’s resolution isn’t a list of hopes and dreams, it’s a practical To Do list.
Yet, even when you try your hardest, not everything is within your limits of control. Some things won’t happen in a year.
But what you can do is create pathways to lead you closer to your goals. Then, if you reach the end of the year and you didn’t meet your objective, you can relax in the knowledge that you are even closer to achieving them next year.
When there’s hope and light at the end of the tunnel, there’s a lot less self-hatred and disappointment.
Lastly, let’s talk about resilience.
Approaching your New Year’s resolution with kindness and realism still doesn’t guarantee that you will achieve what you set out to do. But you can still stay positive and hopeful, love yourself, and believe you will get there eventually by being resilient.
As an author, learning how to be resilient has been fundamental to my mental health. Resilience doesn’t mean not feeling disappointment or frustration, it’s learning how to take the positive out of a situation and bounce back. It means remaining hopeful.
I like to remind myself that just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it’s not happening. If I don’t get the book deal I wanted, it doesn’t mean the right people haven’t noticed me and I won’t get lucky next time.
For instance, I planned to learn more Dutch last year. I’m still not very good at it, but I did learn 174 words according to Duolingo. That’s still more than I knew in 2021! I still saw it as a win.
So this year, as you pick up your notebook and start writing your New Year’s resolutions, remember to be kind to yourself, be realistic, and be resilient.
Everyone has the ability to improve their lives and writing it down is a great way to cement those objectives and start your first step to making them a reality.
But, don’t forget, a year is just an arbitrary timeframe. You have your entire life to become who you truly want to be. This list is simply the first stepping stone to a better you.
Not because there’s anything wrong with the current you, this isn’t about hating your current life, it’s about being excited about the future.
Never stop feeling inspired and hopeful. And who cares if you still don’t reach your goal? There’s always next year!