Lose 15 pounds—check. Get a large raise—check. Start an investment portfolio—check. Oh sorry, don’t mind us, we’re just listing the things that shouldn’t be on your New Year’s resolutions list. In fact, we think you shouldn’t have a list like that at all and we’re going to explain why.
Every year we’re forced to wade through a lot of “motivational” b.s. about New Year’s resolutions, how to stick to them, what should be on your list—and don’t even get us started on those holiday weight loss posts because we’ve talked about that already. In a normal year those kinds of posts are annoying at best, but as the U.S. is dealing with constant shutdowns due to the pandemic and scary news cycles, they feel even more disingenuous and unhelpful.
Let’s be honest: New Year, New You isn’t always a healthy philosophy but in a world full of inequality and fear it’s also just unrealistic. So let’s talk about why you should forego New Year’s Resolutions this year, and maybe every year.
New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Really Work, Anyways
According to a previous UAB Medicine post, some studies show that fewer than 8 percent of people keep their New Year’s resolutions. Pretty bleak, right? The article goes on to list habits and secrets of people who do keep them but we’re bigger fans of just tossing the idea entirely.
New Year’s resolutions are a lot like those post-holiday weight loss posts: a myth. Just like studies show most people don’t gain weight after the holidays, studies show most people don’t keep their resolutions. That’s in part because making big, drastic changes so suddenly just won’t stick. You can’t change everything about your life overnight; it’s not realistic or doable. If your goal is to lose 25 pounds, you’ll probably need to change everything about your life very quickly in order to do it, from your activity levels to the way you eat. It requires a massive reorganization that won’t happen fast.
That’s not to say you can’t have goals and that you can’t make improvements in your life. What we are saying is that an arbitrary list with far-fetched goals doesn’t come with the support system, the ecosystem of change, needed to see them through.
Toxic Positivity During Hard Times Isn’t Helpful
Here’s another truth: toxic positivity when the world is on fire isn’t helping anyone. You know those people. They say things like “Just stay optimistic, just stay positive. Everything will be okay. Just manifest.” Or whatever. Well, we hate to break it to you but “just staying positive” is not a solution for people who are struggling to pay bills and make ends meet! In fact, it’s downright insulting and infuriating to hear a coworker or friend insist your problems will go away or resolve themselves.
We shouldn’t have to pretend everything is okay when it’s not. New Year’s Resolutions and the online conversation that come with them only fuel the toxic positivity fire; telling someone if they just aren’t lazy, if they just set fitness goals or if they just make more money or change something in their life their problems will go away is gross, and it’s also a lie. Don’t be that person.
In this Healthline article, Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders and self-esteem, defines toxic positivity as “the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset or — my pet peeve term — ‘positive vibes.”
The article goes on to state that toxic positivity might look like “a family member who chastises you for expressing frustration instead of listening.. [or] a comment to ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘be grateful for what you have.’”
This repression of emotion is basically bottling things up inside instead of working through them. Long term, inability to regulate and process emotion turns into nastier mental health problems, so seek help, reach out and don’t be afraid to get vulnerable when times are tough.
What Can I Do Instead?
Have we convinced you to ditch the New Year’s resolutions and toxic positivity? Good. But don’t go thinking you can’t make profound positive change in your life or for others, because you definitely have the power to make the world a better place, even if it’s only for yourself.
In another post we cover, in-depth, how to make healthy and realistic habits stick, but for now we’ll sum it up by saying your goals should be both exciting and attainable. Consider micro-goals that set you up for success by leaving out opportunity for failure. A perfect example is getting a raise. It might be better to re-organize that goal and say, “Hey, I’d like to take on more responsibility at work and be a good leader. I’d like to be compensated fairly but I know the budget is tight because of the economy. I’m going to talk with my boss about developing as an employee and ask how we can increase my salary.” That’s far more realistic than saying, “I want to make $50,000 more this year,” right? Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t set yourself up for failure, either.
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