By Sophia Lovell
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that you can never anticipate how your year will turn out. We were faced with a global upheaval: a deadly virus, natural disasters, extreme injustice, and political and economic turmoil — never mind the personal challenges we faced. We had to learn how to adapt and how to heal from one distressing event to the next.
I guarantee you that the majority of New Year’s resolutions developed last January didn’t pan out the way they were expected to. It’s not our fault; sometimes life gets in the way, and this past year was packed full of the unexpected roadblocks to our resolutions. Because of this, 2021 has been the first year that I have not set a single New Year’s resolution.
In past years, I’ve fallen victim to the romance of the new year: the opportunity for reinvention of one’s self and redirection of one’s life. But, to be honest with you, I’ve failed (in varying degrees) to resolve my resolutions each year. We all begin in January eating healthy, reading books and saving our money — and then life gets in the way sometime around February, and we fall into our old patterns and habits. The reality is that a new year is not a new beginning; it is merely another day on the calendar.
As humans, we are constantly in search of that new chapter of our lives — the moment when things are really going to turn around for us — where we will finally become the person that we have always wanted to be. But humans are creatures of habit. We procrastinate these changes, be it of fear or interference of the unexpected. If there’s something in your life that you need changed, why is the mark of Jan. 1 the determining factor for this change?
Hustle culture (I could write an entirely separate article on that) and New Year’s resolutions both are nothing but a recipe for a toxic mindset. Often during an end-of-year moment of reflection, we are left with disappointment in ourselves because we left some or all resolutions unresolved. And yet we recycle them, declaring that this new year, this will be the year that we make the change. It’s a constant cycle of procrastination, disappointment and attempts at redemption. However, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t strive for self-improvement.
It’s just that resolutions themselves are not the best method for self-improvement. Resolutions are so vague. How can you resolve to do something for 365 days into the future, when you really don’t know what those days will entail? As CNN says, we should focus on goals, or what they call “micro-resolutions.” They suggest we commit to some small change for a month. The age-old belief is that when you do something for 21 days, it becomes a habit. Therefore, your micro-resolution could easily turn into a year-long habit, but focusing your mind on a shorter term goal has proven to be more effective.
Often our resolutions look like “working out more,” or “drinking more water” with nothing concrete to hold onto. Rather, I suggest you make goals more relevant and specific to your desires. For example, “working out more” could become “working out for an hour 3 times a week for all of January,” and “drinking more water” could become “drinking 8 cups of water a day during January.”
Even month-long goals can be interrupted by the unexpected, so taking it day-by-day is also a valid option: Create a list in the morning of goals/tasks to get done. These can include parts of bigger goals (working out, drinking water, staying off of your phone). Shorter term and more specific goals give you something more tangible; you’re more likely to hold yourself accountable when utilizing them.
2020 taught me that we need to be kind to ourselves. So, whether you take my advice and establish smaller, more specific goals or not, just remember that it’s okay to not have things turn out how you planned for them to. Our lives have been hit with the unexpected and will undoubtedly continue to be. The reality is that we have to adapt our plans to our circumstances.
Sophia Lovell is taking 2021 day by day.
Let’s Fail at Failing Our Resolutions
By Toni Shindler-Ruberg
Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions have become somewhat of a joke in popular culture. They often appear in tandem with “failure,” and people have begun the proud declaration of not setting any resolutions.
And while 2020 is a flaming garbage heap that should be tossed out the window (figuratively, of course), resolutions should be kept! Rather than cutting resolutions out of our lives and forcing contentment with our current circumstances out of frustration, we must reframe the way we think and approach the latest elliptical orbit around the sun. When approached properly, resolutions can be a wonderful way to approach a new year, while ensuring you learn from and improve upon the past.
A 2014 study investigated increased motivation towards aspirational behaviors following temporal landmarks (new years, new months, new weeks, holidays, birthdays, etc.), labeled the “fresh start effect.” But as we’ve seen time and time again, the passage of time does not necessarily mean things will automatically improve.
Change doesn’t happen overnight; it is an ongoing process.
Setting some sort of goal to work towards or keep in mind is far more effective than setting or completing tasks without thinking about the underlying motivation. Having a healthy motivation for personal growth is empowering and contributes to long-term sustainability of your new habit or practice.
The traditional concept of the “New Year’s resolution” is often rigid, demanding specific goals and framframinges anything less as a failure. It’s hard to find motivation from this punishment-minded perspective, not to mention the current human experience that drains our energy and emotions.
A 2016 study found that 55% of New Year’s resolutions are health-related. Often, health resolutions are formatted as, “Lose X amount of weight in a month.” At the end of the month, it turns out you’ve lost some weight but less than X instead. Without a sustainable or growth mindset, the progress you made is seen as a failure instead of a step forward.
In July, 53% of American adults reported COVID-19 having a negative impact on their mental health. Be kind to yourself! Quitting, losing or stopping (negatively framed goals) are harder to approach, while learning or starting something new (positively framed goals) are easier to approach and often come with support systems.
When living in constant fear of underperforming or failure, “temporal landmarks” are panic buttons to erase what we’ve told ourselves is a failure. Instead, temporal landmarks can become benchmarks to evaluate progress and overall impact, and adapt your current plan to suit ever-changing circumstances.
We can reframe negatively oriented goals as flexible themes, under which you can include specific accomplishments to work towards the larger theme. Working off our example, your themed goal could be to live a more healthy, well-rounded life. So instead of telling yourself to go to the gym five times a week — and seeing anything less as a failure — you can recruit a friend to work out or go on a walk with you three times a week. Instead of cutting out all sugar and dairy completely, you can learn how to cook different high-protein meals and a few reduced-sugar desserts. Overall, you are transforming your motivation and approach to healthy living.
My resolution for the year is to listen more. Listen to others, the world around us and myself. I’ve made plans for biweekly calls with old friends to catch up, I take a few minutes when I can to catch up on current events, and I’m learning to listen to my body and mind to gauge when I need to take a break or can push myself a bit harder. Structuring small tasks beneath a flexible theme enables us to evaluate our motivations from a psychological perspective and be kind to ourselves on our path of self-growth.
Approach the new year as a chance for development and evolution. January doesn’t have to be scary, and February doesn’t have to be a graveyard for resolutions. Instead, remember to be easy on yourself. Change and transformation are marathons, not sprints.
Toni Shindler-Ruberg’s real resolution is to write more about her resolutions.