New Year’s Resolutions Are Toxic. Here’s What To Do Instead

Dahlia Mayerson
January 19, 2022

When we set New Year’s resolutions, they come from a place of good intentions and optimistic energy.

But life often gets in the way. Perhaps you’ve successfully made it to the gym every day since January 1st, but a last-minute work emergency keeps you after hours, ending your workout streak. One missed day turns into two, and two days turns to two weeks until ultimately you say, “Forget it.”

Disappointed, frustrated, and upset, you wonder why you even bothered in the first place.

If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone. January 17th is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but it also hosts a lesser-known holiday: Ditch Day, the day when most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions.

If that makes you feel even more disheartened, we understand. But here’s an alternative philosophy to consider: New Year’s resolutions are the problem, not you.

Why do New Year’s resolutions tend to fail?

Inherently, setting goals for the year ahead is not a bad thing, and in fact, it’s an attempt at self-improvement that should be celebrated.

However, we already face a lot of external pressure from those around us, like our parent’s expectations or society’s definition of success. Setting strict New Year’s resolutions adds to the pressure we already put on ourselves, and as a result, weighs us down even more.

This pressure can lead to feelings of anxiety, false hope syndrome, and severe damage to your self-esteem.

And unfortunately, if we fail our resolutions, many of us will set even more unrealistic expectations the following year, fueling a vicious cycle of disappointment and negative energy.

And that’s the exact opposite of what many of us set out to accomplish with our New Year’s resolutions to begin with.

New Year’s Resolution Alternatives

With everything we’ve discussed in mind, here are a few alternatives to New Year’s resolutions that will be better tools and techniques on your journey to personal growth.

Reflect on Your Successes

Many of us will admit to setting New Year’s resolutions based on negative feelings about ourselves.

We feel unattractive, so we tell ourselves we will lose weight or eat less processed foods. When we fail to abide by these resolutions, the pain we feel actually doubles. We feel the sting of not accomplishing the goal and the self-criticism we’ve aimed at ourselves.

Instead of creating unrealistic goals from a place of judging yourself, reflect on the past year, list the things you’ve done that you are proud of, and identify healthy habits that you can build on.

Perhaps you’ve been keeping your space tidier than usual, taking 30 minute walks outside every day to enjoy the nice weather, or you’ve been doing a better job at saying no to your colleagues who ask for too much.

By celebrating your successes, you acknowledge your ability to change and grow. This helps you develop a positive image of yourself as someone working towards improving themselves. By showing yourself your potential, you might find it easier to build on your existing habits and set achievable goals.

Do what makes you proud.

Sometimes, our New Year’s resolutions aren’t even for ourselves but rather what society considers valuable. “Everyone loves social butterflies,” we say as we commit to more dates and parties. But why? We hate parties and staying out late.

Soon we’re setting disingenuous New Year’s resolutions that quickly induce more anxiety and become unsustainable to maintain. Instead of worrying about what others want from you, it’s essential to determine what your values are.

So what do you enjoy? What makes you proud?

No matter how big or small your answers to those questions are, they will lead you towards a happier, healthier life that’s yours.

Enjoy being yourself.

Change can be good if the right motivations fuel it. Too often wish we were more like someone else, so we create resolutions to achieve those goals.

Make a practice of approaching yourself with self-love and compassion instead.

Think about what makes you unique, the attributes that make you, you. Knowing that you deserve happiness and that you matter will make it easier for you to prioritize yourself and ultimately fall into habits that serve you.

You will find that developing a loving relationship with yourself leads to more improvements in your life than a shallow New Years Resolution.

In the end, remember: we are all on our own unique, individual journeys. Comparing yourself or trying to please others by setting inauthentic or unrealistic goals is a toxic practice that can be a detriment to your well-being.

How To Set Realistic Goals

If you feel like you need a hand in processing your thoughts and setting realistic, healthy goals, consider working with a licensed therapist. Reach out to Resilience Lab’s Care Coordinator team to start your journey. Our mission is to connect you to a therapist specifically tailored to your needs.

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Interested in working with a licensed therapist but unsure where to start? Check out Dahlia Mayerson, LMSW’s latest post on What To Expect When You Start Therapy. The most diverse collective of New York-based therapists are sharing their insights and offering advice covering a wide range of topics here in the Thought Lab.

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