mental health

No #Goals? Why you don’t have to make any New Year’s resolutions

Steph Arnaldo
No #Goals? Why you don’t have to make any New Year’s resolutions

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Here's how to decide if you should be setting resolutions for yourself this year, according to a psychologist

MANILA, Philippines – You know the drill: it’s the start of 2022, and with a new year comes a new set of resolutions we swear we won’t break this time around (again). This is it, you tell yourself: January is the fresh start I need to finally get my s*** together!

I’m going to lose 10 pounds! I’m going to eat healthier. I’m going to meditate every day. I will be more generous. I’m going to save every month. But what happens if – or rather, when – we don’t?

We’re all too familiar with the first day high of setting new promises to ourselves, riding on the motivational wave until it crashes a few weeks (or even days) later. Suddenly, the disappointment sets in, and we already feel like a failure before the month has even ended.

Why do we still make resolutions then? Psychologist Lissy Ann Puno defined New Year’s resolutions (NYRs) as a “goal or commitment to make a change in a specific area of your life.” Most of us want to be better, but Lissy Ann acknowledges that the failure of NYRs is globally more common than we think. At least we don’t have to feel so alone?

“Statistics show that a high percent of NYRs fail or are not completed because soon, motivation weakens or ‘life happens’ to distract you or to take your focus away,” Lissy Ann said. Take into consideration that we’re on year two of a pandemic, and imposing even more added pressures on ourselves during an already very stressful time of our lives may seem a bit masochistic.

Maybe it’s time we shifted our perspective on these commitments, eased up on ourselves, and try to accept that it’s okay to not always be better than you were yesterday.

“Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, think about ‘intentional, consistent, mindful, and regular actions – this could mean daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly actions, whatever applies that will give you sustainable results,” Lissy Ann advised. There’s no timeline or deadline for your goals; what matters is going at your own pace and remembering that life isn’t a race.

Why do we still make resolutions, though?

Well, it’s hard not to – setting New Year’s resolutions actually dates back to our ancestors! In ancient times, the Babylonians would affirm loyalty to the new king, make promises to gods, pay their debts, and return what they’ve borrowed at the start of a new year to gain favor for a bountiful year ahead.

For the Romans, January was significant – it was a time to symbolically reflect on the last year and plan for the next, and to offer sacrifices to the deity and make promises of good conduct for the coming year. For Christians, and now popular within Evangelical Protestant churches, night services are held on New Year’s Eve to spend time praying and making resolutions for the coming year.

“Out with the old, and in with the new,” they say; there’s a certain charm in the word “new,” and the symbolic event of New Year’s Eve adds to the excitement of starting over again. Pre-COVID, New Year countdowns were the best – fireworks in the sky, upbeat music, horns tooting, and hugs and greetings among family and friends once the simultaneous countdown was over. At that moment, we’d feel like a thousand possibilities were ahead of us.

“It’s that feeling of so much hope as we say hello to a new year. The high of the festivities, the adrenaline rush, the heightened emotions at the moment impulsively make you promise to do something, to make a change,” Lissy Ann said. “We usually do this without really stopping and thinking about what it means or what it entails to actually succeed or what it needs to be fulfilled or to successfully accomplish it.”

What is a resolution anyway?

According to Lissy Ann, New Year’s resolutions usually fall under three categories: starting a new personal goal, stopping a bad habit or an ineffective way of being, or continuing something that has been working for you.

The most common ones are weight loss (especially after the inevitable holiday weight gain); health (get fit, exercise more, eat better); and improve on relationships. Many also vow to stop smoking (along with other bad habits accumulated over the holidays), and generally, to make the “most out of life” moving forward.

This can include being more open with romantic opportunities, working on yourself, becoming more organized, being more financially prudent, and learning something new.

Why do they never push through?

If you skipped a day of exercise or “accidentally” binged on a bag of chips, don’t worry – failing to “commit” to your new resolution does not reflect your worth as a person, contrary to how it feels. The problem usually lies in the excitable rush and concept behind making these resolutions.

“It is usually done in the rush of emotions of the moment, and we do not really take careful planning and understanding of how doable the resolution is. We plan big and grandiose promises, and then get pressured and overwhelmed with what it requires from us,” Lissy Ann said. At the height of our drive, we don’t really think of the realistic blocks and challenges that we may face during our pursuit of change.

“At the height of the emotion, we aspire for perfection and an all-or-nothing attitude rather than reasonable steps towards the change. We experience a little bit of a slip, and that already can send us down a spiral of despair and failure,” Lissy Ann added, which obviously, isn’t the best and healthiest way to start the new year.

It’s a pandemic. Should we still be making them?

The answer? It’s completely up to you.

“You know yourself more than anyone else. You know what the effects of the pandemic have been on you. If the pandemic has been filled with change, stress, worry, is this a good time to be adding another change in your life when the past two years have been made up of constant change?” Lissy Ann asked.

On the other hand, if you feel stuck, bored, or are “languishing” amid the repetitive, mundane, and stagnant way of living in a pandemic, then perhaps it is time to add some positive changes to your routine. It really depends on what you feel you need at this point in your life, so it is important to start being honest with yourself first.

“A lot of plans and dreams had to be given up or put aside as the restrictions did not allow us to pursue them. There is a sense of panic to catch up and make up for lost time. If ever, your resolutions this year could be about that,” Lissy Ann said. Maybe a resolution is what you need to “get back on track” – and this eagerness to “move forward” with urgency may be able to offer you that much-needed internal shift of hope, Lissy Ann said.

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The only resolution you need: Be kinder to yourself

If you can’t think of any new habits to adopt, or feel like you’re regressing, don’t beat yourself up. Now is not the time to be harder on yourself! Instead of going hard on your goals, Lissy Ann recommends to soothe yourself with these positive affirmations and self-acceptance mantras. Being kinder to yourself can be already be a groundbreaking resolution on its own.

  • “I can do this.”
  • “I have done this before, I can do it again.”
  • “I can handle this.”
  • “I am a confident person.”
  • “I can grow from this.”
  • “I am learning from this.”
  • “I can see the good in this situation.”
  • “I can look at this in a way that will work for me.”
  • “I am empowered.”
  • “I am capable of finding solutions.”
  • “I am lovable.”
  • “I am worthy.”
  • “I am valuable.”
  • “I am complete.”

If saying these affirmations doesn’t feel right to you just yet, that’s okay. Just like any goal, it’ll take patience and time! Remember that if a goal is causing you more anxiety and stress than empowerment, ask yourself if this is self-imposed pressure, and consider dropping it if it’s becoming more harmful than helpful. Don’t worry, you’re not time-bound – resolutions aren’t just limited to January. You can start new goals anytime of the year!

A simpler way to be “better”

“I want to be better…but I don’t know how or where to begin,” you might be asking yourself. If it feels too overwhelming, Lissy Ann suggests to merely “choose which path you want to be on moving forward.”

Will you go on the the Weak Self path – helpless, destructive, and ridden with disappointment, distress, and despair? Or will you walk towards the Powerful Self path, which is focused on becoming more competent, nurturing, and compassionate, while prioritizing growth and healing?

If you’ve picked the latter, great job! Now all you have to do is think of small, simple ways that will help you get closer to the Powerful Self that is already within.

For guidance, here are some questions to reflect on as you think of your own personal resolutions:

  • Which areas should I grow in competence?
  • What can I create in my life or have grown into in my life?
  • How do I nurture myself to self-care?
  • How can I be kinder to myself and practice compassion?
  • What areas of my life need healing?

Also, expect demotivation and mistakes. Lissy Ann says that these may not necessarily be a bad thing – when we surrender to being and not just doing, magic can also happen.

Just trying is enough

The pandemic has taken a lot from all of us, so it’s important to ask yourself if you have more of yourself to give at a time like this. If you do, great; if you don’t, that’s just as fine.

Just don’t forget to ask yourself: Will this NY resolution be a challenge or pressure? Or will it encourage resilience and allow me to bounce back, love myself, and cope even better?

You know yourself best. What will you gain from the resolution?

Maybe you’ve already decided that you want to start somewhere. Lissy Ann recommends to see resolutions as “visions” instead – envisioning your “better self” can already help make it come true, coupled with a well-thought-out plan that will help you achieve it realistically and sustainably. Her tip? Formulate the vision into the present tense, using “I am.”

“Make it specific, realistic, and positive for you. Create small steps to achieve it. Make it a SMART resolution/goal/vision,” she says. The acronym SMART means: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

For example, if you want to adopt a healthier lifestyle, maybe scrap “I’m never eating meat again” and replace it with #MeatlessMondays. Instead of forcing yourself to finish that intense YouTube workout regimen every day, maybe start with a simple but doable goal of moving your body 30 minutes every day, whether that be via a walk, yoga, biking, or dancing. That way, the goal becomes palatable, and how you get there every day is still up to you, depending on how you feel.

“Don’t forget to celebrate that first step that leads you to the goal, keep going until you feel the energy, encourage yourself, and know that mistakes are opportunities to learn,” Lissy Ann said.

When deciding if a resolution is meant for you this year, what’s most important is staying true to yourself. You can do this by being authentic and accepting who you are, flaws and all. Trust yourself enough that you’ll know when you’re ready to make that change for yourself (and not for anybody else).

“Don’t let the curated world of social media dictate for you how to move forward in the new year,” Lissy Ann reminds. All that matters is we try just a little bit more (or even a little bit less) in 2022, for yourself and for your loved ones. – Rappler.com

Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.