Are New Year’s Resolutions A Good Decision for Your Mental Health?

Happy New Year! We’ve made it through another year, one of the trickiest in a long time. At the end of each year, it’s always good to reflect and look back, but this is also an ideal time to look forward. One of the ways we most commonly do this is through New Year’s Resolutions. The phrase itself gives me such a mixed feeling. Will I set my own? Will I just avoid them this year? Most of us have been through this internal struggle at some point. However, have we ever really asked ourselves what the benefits are of committing to a resolution, or the drawbacks for that matter?

In this post, we will discuss the basics of New Year’s resolutions, including the positives and negatives of deciding to partake in the tradition, particularly focusing on your mental health and how this decision will impact it. Finally, I would like to discuss some possible alternatives if you still find yourself on the fence about your yearly plans but know you would like to do something to mark the occasion.

Whilst the concept of New Year’s resolutions stems from religious backgrounds, as a way of earning favour from above, we have transformed this into our own personal tradition based on self-improvement. This is at least the intention for our yearly set goals. In general, the most common New Year’s resolutions are losing weight, saving money, starting a new hobby, or quitting a bad habit or addiction such as alcohol or smoking.

In theory there isn’t anything wrong with these goals, and most of us can relate to them in one way or another. The thing is, in practice New Year’s resolutions aren’t as successful as most of us hope they will be. I’m sure if you’ve read any article about them, you’ll know the statistics already, but they are so important to mention when discussing the pros and cons of the tradition, so here they are:

According to studies it is estimated that approximately 80% of people fail their New Year’s resolutions by February. Along with this stat is another which states that roughly only 8% are successful with their yearly goals overall. As you can see from these figures, it seems that the odds are not in our favour when we plan to partake in this annual tradition, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Who’s to say you aren’t one of the 8% percent who succeed, or even if you aren’t successful who’s to say you won’t learn a valuable lesson from the goals you set yourself.

In the end, it’s your decision on what you do. However, in order to give you a better idea of the impact this decision can have on your mental health, I have outlines some of the positives and negatives below:

The Good:

Positive reflection is the first benefit to your mental health setting a New Year’s resolution can bring. It’s always a good thing to be able to look back on the previous year and not only see the ups and downs but be able to see what you want to do better or change. Looking back at certain events over the year and their impact on your mental health or stress levels, then setting out to either work on becoming more comfortable in said situations or avoiding them if they are toxic or damaging to you.

Another benefit to partaking in the annual tradition is that it promotes healthy change. Change can be such a daunting thought to so many of us, but it is something that is essential in life. Unfortunately, we only get the option to move forward in life and as such change must occur, so being able to tackle this in a positive and healthy way, at least personally, can be of great help to us.   These good changes are even more important this year after all of the uncontrollable, chaotic ones we experienced in 2020.  

The final noteworthy positive which comes alongside New Year’s resolutions is the power of fresh starts. The beginning of a New Year is such an important time for many people. Looking at the calendar and seeing the 1st January can provide us with the feeling of a new beginning, a clean slate, in which we can start from scratch and rebuild ourselves from the ground up. This provides us with a lot of motivation to get things right for ourselves, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  It’s not like people magically change at the beginning of a new year and it can be unhealthy to think that way, but to still treat it as motivation for your personal growth is a good use of the energy and mentality.

If you’re going to partake in a New Year’s resolution this year then there are two things worth mentioning which will greatly increase your chances of success:

Be realistic: ‘This year I’m going to become the richest person in the world?’, yeah…sure you are…, but taking what is a ridiculously unrealistic goal and turning it into ‘I want to start a savings account’ is not only much more doable but is also healthier as it stops you from experiencing false hope if your goal isn’t successful despite you giving it your all.

Be smart: This one is similar to the above point, so we’ll keep with the previous example. You’ve decided to start a savings account. You’ve also decided to put the majority of your wages in each month and then find you’re not able to afford other things you need. This is what happens when you approach your goals in a rushed or unplanned way. You start getting run down trying to keep yourself afloat financially and every day that passes you’re more and more likely to just break your resolution. This is why being smart is important. If your goal is financially motivated. Make a list of expenditure. Budget. Figure out what percentage can go into the savings account. If it’s weight loss, figure out what your current weight and goal weight is. Keep it specific, keep it planned, keep it healthy.

The Bad:

There is a lot of flack around New Year’s resolutions and I can see why. As stated above, 80% of resolutions fail in the first month of the New Year. That figure alone is enough to put certain people off setting their own. However, there are a few other reasons you may want to consider not partaking in resolutions this year.

One of the most common reasons people don’t succeed with their set goals is due to the goals being ridiculously difficult to achieve. It’s like what I said above about being the richest person alive. Yeah, that may be a bit of a hyperbole, but there are resolutions which are just as difficult to achieve. Losing weight is one of the most common resolutions, and it’s definitely an achievable one. However, setting a goal of losing 1-2 lbs a week on average is a lot healthier than saying you’ll shed 30lbs in the first month. I’m sure it’s possible, but it’s a lot less realistic and will cause you a lot more upset if you don’t hit the strict deadline you set. Because of seeing this small progress as ‘not good enough’, many people aim for the higher targets and are set up to fail from the beginning, which can end up having a negative impact on their mental health when they face their first setback.

A major negative to New Year’s resolutions comes in the form of self-criticism. Taking into consideration that 80% statistic again, how do you think these people who have failed feel about themselves. I don’t know how many time’s I’ve personally set a goal then been upset whenever I didn’t achieve it. I’ve called myself stupid, lazy, not good enough on countless occasions when goals I set weren’t met, and this kind of self-criticism and doubt ultimately leads to further mental health and self-esteem problems which some of us just may not be prepared to face.

In the positives section of this article, the first perk we discussed was positive reflection. However, negative reflection can also creep into play when organising which New Year’s resolutions you’d like to achieve. Sometimes this first hurdle is enough to make your New Year’s resolutions harmful. People tend to think about their resolutions in December, and seeing as the most common are regarding weight, drinking, smoking or finance, it’s no wonder so many people fall into the trap come January.

December is the ‘overindulgent month’, a month full of ‘sure it’s Christmas’ before eating half a tin of sweets with your cup of tea, but this makes the contrast of January stick out all the more. Some people when thinking about what they want to change, get caught up in the spiral of why they need the change in the first place. People get angry at themselves and question ‘Why did I start smoking in the first place’ or ‘How was I such an idiot with my money?’ and this is enough to send them into that spiral. So be aware that if you think you’re prone to this kind of thinking, resolutions may not be for you.

But fortunately, for those who find themselves still on the fence or definitely don’t want to set New Year’s resolutions, but do want to achieve something in 2021, or mark the year in some way, there are many alternatives to the most common yearly ritual.

The Alternatives:

Instead of setting yourself a yearly goal or a lifetime goal in the shape of a New Year’s resolution, perhaps start off on a smaller scale and try the ‘monthly challenge’ goals more and more of us have been attempting each year. Be it through a different challenge each month or 4 different three month-long challenges, these can be a lot of fun and way more achievable.  Dry January, Veganuary, Sober for October and Movember are just a few of the already commonly practiced monthly events for self-improvement and charities. Overall, these monthly challenges split up the year, make things more bearable in smaller doses and they can be a lot of fun.

Another alternative to the traditional resolution pathway is through creating a yearly bucket list. Rather than focusing on personal changes such as ‘I will be healthier in the new year etc.’, this allows you to have a list of things you want to achieve. This could be a less daunting version of the above such as ‘I want to lose 10lbs this year’, or it can be something fun you’ve always wanted to try like ‘I want to go camping this year.’  It’s less about major change and more about minor goals which you can create fun memories from.

Lists in general are a great alternative to resolutions. Instead of a generalised bucket list, you can make things your own in whatever way you see fit. Set yourself a list of 10 books you’d like to read, or 20 films you’d like to watch, or 8 local cafes you’ve been meaning to try. You get to make it how you please.  Power your way through these lists to feel a sense of achievement which is beneficial to your happiness levels and, who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself in a pub quiz at some stage and be able to nail the obscure movie round.

Whatever you decide to do to mark this year, be it resolutions, challenges, lists or even nothing at all, just take some time to focus on your mental health in the process and if things start feeling negative, adjust your actions accordingly. I would like to take this time to, once again, wish each of you a Happy New Year, and with any luck it will be a better one that 2020 brought us.

So, how do you plan to mark this new year? Have you got any more alternatives I didn’t mention? Do you have a fun monthly challenge to add to the list? Would you just like to mention something I’ve forgotten? Let me know in the comments below.

If you’re experiencing any of the feelings described in this post such as depression or anxiety, or know somebody who is, then there are many things you can do to help. Talking to somebody about how you or they are feeling can be very beneficial. If you’re not sure what to do but need urgent help, there are many emergency hotlines that provide support and encouragement such as Mind.org and Samaritans.org. You’re not alone in feeling this way, others are there to help.

Published by AnxietyBear

Opening a conversation around the topic of mental health. Providing support and advice. Exploring personal experiences.

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