New Year’s Resolutions are bad for Your Mental Health: Why You Shouldn’t Beat Yourself up About This Year

January 9, 2022

“Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.”

– Morihei Ueshiba

New Year’s is a time to start over. Like a clean slate, once the ball drops at midnight, we would all like to be magically transformed into a better version of ourselves. The problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they aren’t only not helpful to our psyche as we are taught to believe; they are profoundly depressing for most who make them. Over 80% of those who make a New Year’s Resolution give up by early February. But why do so many people give up on them, and why do they amount to nothing more than setting ourselves up for failure?

A New Year’s Resolution is supposed to be inspiring, a way to make the New Year all about a new us. But if you were one of the many who vowed this year to drink less, stop smoking, quit swearing, lose those extra pounds, or just be more kind, that new you can start to feel more like a quest for failure. 

New Year’s Resolutions Involve one of Three Desires

The reason that New Year’s Resolutions often fail, and miserably so, is because they are not made with the motivation that creates change. Almost all New Year’s Resolutions involve one of three desires. They typically revolve around quitting something, doing something that will make yourself feel better, or doing something that doesn’t come naturally to you. And what we know about humans is that changing repetitive behaviors or adding new ones that alter the way we live our daily lives is not easy. In fact, it might be the single hardest thing to do.

New Year’s Resolutions often make us feel worse about ourselves because when we fail to follow through so quickly, it feels like a cop-out. Making a promise to change due to a date or a grand idea is never a splendid idea. 

Why do Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail?

Finger about to press a car ignition button with the text 2020 start. Year two thousand and twenty concept.

They are Usually not About Simple Changes

Most of the things that we vow to change are not insignificant behaviors; they are about deep-seated and embedded social, psychological, and automatic ways that we live our lives and the decisions we make. Our behaviors are a combination of our temperament and personality, which stem from very physical and emotional needs. Most of the things we do, we do so from learned experiences and neurochemical reaction loops that we aren’t even aware of. 

Facing Those Things, we Avoid Produces a Great Amount of Short-Term Stress

The reason that we do the things we do is, typically, because if we don’t, it makes us feel anxious and uncomfortable. If you stop to confront those things in life that you have been avoiding, it leads to stress and anxious feelings. Although facing something you have been avoiding will eventually lead to a decrease in the anxiety you feel, meeting the short-term consequences head-on, until you are desensitized to it, is a challenging thing to accomplish.

It’s Even Harder to Give up Those Things That Provide Pleasure

We all have a little carrot that we hold onto to reward ourselves when we feel bad. Most of the bad behaviors that we engage in, ironically, make us feel better. After a long day, if you look forward to a glass of wine or a dessert, what is going to replace that little burst of happiness? Without them, what do you feel you have to look forward to as you are facing your hurdles throughout a stressful day?

If you stop doing those things that make you feel good, then you feel as if you are depriving yourself of happiness. And, at a chemical level, those little rewards like a glass of Chardonnay gives us a little boost of dopamine, which is a feel-good neurotransmitter that drives us to want to do it again.

Doing Things That Don’t Come Naturally

When we promise that we are going to do something that doesn’t come naturally, it is like running against the wind. When something isn’t within our comfort level or is difficult for us to do, the body’s instinct is to avoid it unconsciously.

Therefore, the behaviors that you vow to change in your New Year’s Resolution are some of the most difficult ones because you are already functioning instinctually with them. We are all creatures of habit, and those habits are what get us to the end of the day. And humans are very resistant to change, especially on a grand scale, which is what most New Year’s Resolutions are centered around.

Evaluate Your Accomplishments

The biggest problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that if you have a string of failed ones in the past, this is just one more year to let yourself down. Instead of thinking about all the ways you didn’t accomplish last year’s promise, think about all the things you did accomplish. When we focus on failures, it leads to feelings of anxiety and not feeling good about yourself. 

And it is difficult to motivate yourself when you are already anticipating failure. It is better to make a list of all of the things you did accomplish to bolster yourself and make that the starting point to creating small change over the next year than to think a grand overall gesture is the only way to find a better version of you.

Set Goals not Resolutions

Resolutions are more likely to fail because no rewards are leading the way or motivating you to continue on the path to success. Most New Year’s Resolutions are unrealistic, and we know that going into them, but feel good about resolving to follow through. In reality, a resolution becomes more of a way to punish ourselves for not being our best than to motivate us to become all that we want to be.

Goals differ, they are a set of steps leading to the change that we desire. When you set realistic goals, they are easier to obtain. And each time we achieve a goal, it makes us feel better about ourselves. When you have greater self-worth, it is easier to motivate yourself to move forward, keep growing, and achieve your grand goal. 

Change Habits Instead of Resolving to Change

Instead of resolving to make a significant change, decide to create realistic tasks, and they will eventually get you to where you want to be. Make a goal of walking every day instead of running a marathon if you’ve never run before. Or, if you’re going to lose twenty pounds, start with two and go from there. When you set attainable goals, you aren’t setting yourself up for shame or failure.

So if you made your New Year’s Resolution to be a whole new you, go back to the drawing board and consider resolving to make one small change every day that is doable, attainable, and will make you feel better about yourself. That is what it is all about, feeling better about you, what you have accomplished, and who you are. This year, make 2020 the year that you resolve to love yourself a little more, one day at a time.

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