In this op-ed, senior identity editor Brittney McNamara explains why she’s ready to kill the New Year’s resolution.
As we enter 2021, the new year doesn’t promise such a clean slate. There’s still a deadly pandemic raging, we’re still sequestered largely to our homes, and life still very much feels like one long, bad dream (though the vaccine is providing new hope). It’s not exactly the “new year new me” scenario many people relish around January 1. But rather than despair, this muddy new year provides us a different kind of opportunity: We can finally put an end to the New Year’s resolution.
For some, New Year’s resolutions are a hopeful setting of intentions, a way to manifest positive change as we turn the page. That’s great. But for most, these intentions are a way of changing what they see as negative aspects of themselves — an attempt to mentally or physically shed the things we think we’ve done wrong.
“People make New Year’s resolutions because they’re in pain. The pain might not be acute or felt in a conscious, daily way, but on some level people know that their current habits are denying them the quality of life they deserve,” Katherine Schafler, a New York City psychotherapist previously told Teen Vogue.
But perhaps because these resolutions come from a negative place, from a place of thinking you’re wrong or bad, they most often fail. One study found that only about 8% of people actually succeed with their resolutions. Resolutions also are promises of change that we commit to virtually over night. We say we’ll transform what we view as our “bad habits” starting on January 1, after engaging in them all the previous year. But positive self improvement doesn’t happen like that, and the desire to truly shift our habits doesn’t correspond with a calendar date. In a blog post on Psychology Today, Amy Morin, LCSW, explained that many resolutions fail because, despite promise to change, people who make resolutions aren’t actually ready to evolve in the ways they say.
“When people launch their resolution on January 1st, they are making a change based on a calendar date when they think they are prepared to change their lives. This is the real reason most resolutions fail,” Morin wrote.
So, after a year filled with loss, and pain, and grief, why set intentions that are just thinly shrouded ways of punishing ourselves? For those of us who use resolutions as a way to “fix” what we see as flaws in ourselves, let’s let surviving a pandemic, a huge accomplishment in itself, be enough this year.
That triumph leaves little room for chastising ourselves for the ways we went about it, or the ways our minds or bodies have changed as a result.
When 2020 started, I set a resolution to start doing yoga each morning. I started off strong (don’t we always?), but around mid-March, my practice came to an abrupt halt. As the world became sicker and sicker, I became more despondent, breaking up from any and all routines I had. I wasn’t reliably putting on fresh clothes or washing my face during those early days of self-isolation, and I definitely was not doing yoga. Looking back, I’m choosing not to be upset with myself. Instead, I see it as doing what I needed to to get through an unbelievably challenging time. (That view, I’ll note, is thanks to therapy.)
For that reason, I’m not going into 2021 with specific intentions. If I want to make changes to my life or my habits, I’ll do so, but I refuse to set myself up for failure at the beginning of a year that already promises tumult. In fact, I might never make a New Year’s resolution again because, if we’ve learned one thing in 2020, it’s that we have little control over what will happen tomorrow. I don’t know if I’ll be able to wake up and do yoga each day, so I won’t promise to and feel bad when I don’t. But on the days I am able to wake up and do yoga, I’d like to remember what a treat that is, and take pleasure in the slow stretch of downward dog.
If you absolutely must set a New Year’s resolution, Jill Daino, LCSW-R, a Talkspace therapist, recommends coming from a place of existing strength.
“Resolutions that come from a place of strength rather than self criticism are a good place to start,” she says. “Many people focus on things like losing weight or exercising more in order to ‘fix’ a perceived problem, which can lead to feeling defeated if they aren’t able to achieve results. Thinking about health and overall well being, from a place of strength shifts the resolution from ‘fixing a problem’ to creating a goal around quality of functioning.”
Setting goals is great, and making positive change in your life is necessary, but as we ring in 2021, you won’t catch me declaring new year new me. I’ll instead be trying to accept myself as I am, and marching along the slow road of self-improvement without all the pressure of changing my whole life overnight.