New Year\’s Resolutions Have Unintended Side Effects

The end of the year, and the beginning of the next, is often a time for setting goals. These goals often take the form of the ever-present New Year’s Resolution. We find ourselves setting out to finally lose those last ten pounds, begin a meditation practice, or call our parents more often.

The year starts with a bang, and we are off to the races, developing and maintaining those new habits, until…we don’t.

For some, New Year’s Resolutions are an opportunity to set positive goals for the new year, and while that can be a wonderful thing to do for ourselves, resolutions can often have some unintended side effects. It can be difficult to make radical lifestyle changes. Often we “go big or go home,” rather than taking small manageable steps, which ultimately leads to a sense of defeat. This can cause shame, or sometimes, a swing to the other side where we engage in a kind of “release phenomenon.”

Resolutions can also feel like a lot of pressure to create a “new year, new you” type of experience. In reality, we are the same person at 12:01 on January 1, as we were at 11:59 on December 31. This is not meant to be disheartening–in fact, there is tremendous hope in realizing that we can start over with healthy goals any month, week, or day of the year.

So what are some alternatives to New Year’s resolutions? The end of the year is often a time to reflect on where we have been, and where we are going. How we can do this in a way that feels healthy, manageable, and positive?

Choose a “word:” This is perhaps my favorite strategy. Instead of choosing defined goals, perhaps consider choosing a word that you want to invoke in the new year. For example, words like “creative,” “flow”, or “ease” can help you make decisions that apply across all areas of your life, with a sense of flexibility. You might even consider writing the word down in a journal, posting it on a vision board, or sharing it out loud with a trusted friend or family member.

Set intentions, rather than goals: Consider intentions, such as “take better care of my body” or “spend more quality time with family.” Intentions are a bit broader than goals and remind you of the spirit behind the change, which is often more important than the change itself.

Develop a New Year’s Gratitude practice: Instead of looking ahead towards what you need to change, how about looking back at all that you feel thankful for? This is a wonderful New Year’s eve ritual that can be shared with family and friends. Cultivating an appreciation for how you have grown, and what you have done right, often brings about a sense of appreciation and self-confidence–who doesn’t want more of that next year?

For me personally, my word for 2020 is “simplicity.” I am trying to slow down, take unnecessary tasks off my plate, and focus on what matters most to me. As in past years and decades, I am sure I will forget my word, remember, and start over. Perhaps this is the beauty of the New Year…it is a reminder that there is always a new minute around the corner, and, with it, an opportunity to always begin again.

Written by: Dr. Monisha Vasa, MD /// The Mental Health Collective’s Clinical Advisor + Co-Founder