I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions.
Every year around this time I have clients, friends, and family talk about their ‘New Year’s Resolutions’; and every year they ask me if I have any, and every year I tell them no.
I guess you could say I’m anti-New-Year’s Resolutions.
Here is the same pattern I see, year after year, in my clinical practice and with those in my personal life:
1> For most of the last half of December, I see stress and self-criticism hit an all-year-high. There’s lots of pressure as we get through the chaos of Christmas, and heaps of remorse and regret as we start to do our mental year-in-review – picking out every failure, every disappointment, every heart-break, and shortcoming, that has happened over the past 12 months.
2> Pressure and excitement about New Year’s Eve. I recall the days when making sure we had the ‘perfect’ New Year’s Eve plans was pretty much the most important thing, right after not leaving the Christmas lights on our tinder-dry tree and burning the house down. So much pressure in fact that we often ruined it. It’s like we completely forget it’s really just another evening out, and there will be another New Year’s Eve next year.
3> The compiling of the New Year’s resolution list. Usually this is based on a combination of the self-criticisms and regret of the past year, and all the things we believe we ‘should’ do next year (which is mostly based on the media and other people). One only has to Google ‘New Year’s resolutions’ to find a multitude of lists of what you ‘should’ choose to ‘change your life’.. all written by people who’ve never met you.
4> New Year’s Eve. The moment when we are suddenly able to put all this into place and *poof* ..magic.. our lives are suddenly different.
5> Within 1 – 3 weeks after New Year’s Day, most are realizing they have broken their resolutions.
6> And cue the self-criticism.
There are a few fatal flaws with the New Year’s Resolution idea:
(these are my ‘big three’)
1> Our lives do not depend on the magic of a clock. Apparently we are led to believe there is something almost supernatural about the stroke of midnight on December 31st, that magically grants us the motivation and readiness to suddenly make the long-term, major changes in our lives that we have been unable (or unwilling) to do all year long.
2> Our resolutions our not really ours. Usually most resolutions are based on the ‘shoulds’.. I ‘should’ exercise more, I ‘should’ quit smoking, I ‘should’ eat better. Should you? Of course! But the question is do you want to, and are you ready to? If you are not truly ready to make changes in your life, the New Year’s Eve countdown certainly isn’t going to suddenly give you the jump start to the stage of readiness that you need to be at.
3> Unrealistic expectations. I tend to point this one out a lot, simply because I truly feel it is the source of so much suffering and disappointment in our lives. We usually create expectations for ourselves that are way too high, which sets us up to fail, and then leads to self-criticism and shame. If you have been smoking for 20 years, yes it would be best if you quit, but no.. you’re probably not going to succeed quitting cold turkey on New Year’s Eve. Instead of setting this unreasonable goal – take a step back and plan to succeed. Small, reasonable steps, with lots of help and support.
Try something new this New Year.
I recommend picking a theme for the New Year. Let go of the idea of ‘setting goals’ – we often choose to set goals first, without really knowing what’s important to us. Goals are often set based upon the media, our friends, our families, our work… and not upon what we individually value.
Pick a ‘theme’, something that is important to you. (To be clear – I recommend this at any time of the year). A theme could be ‘travel’, ‘health’, ‘education’, ‘family’, or literally anything. The options are endless. Once you choose your theme, and start to move in that direction, the ‘goals’ will naturally come up along the way.
This next year is going to pass by anyways. Your options are:
- to do exactly what you have done in the years past, even though it didn’t work, and most likely be in the same predicament at this time next year
- OR you can try something different and just see…
Summit Counselling Group is made up of eight, professional, and compassionate Registered Clinical Counsellors; working with individuals, couples, adults, children, adolescents, and families at our executive West Broadway office in beautiful Vancouver, B.C.