Right about now your Instagram feed is probably full of the usual ‘New Year New Me’ bullsh*t, trying to tell you you’re not good enough and need to change the way you look/eat/drink/move/behave. I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead I’ve always thought that if I want to change I’ll do it whenever I want, rather than 1st January like the rest of the world (I don’t like following the crowd!). But more importantly I’ve also learnt to accept and love myself the way I am, rather than constantly striving to change.
You only need to look at the statistics to see that New Year’s Resolutions rarely work. Less than a quarter of the people in the UK who make resolutions actually stick to them, and almost a third don’t keep any of them.
There may be many reasons for this, but off the top of my head I’d hazard a guess that people typically set unrealistic expectations, e.g. getting up at 5am, giving up caffeine and eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. This then makes you feel like a failure when you inevitably can’t sustain them for more than about two days. Also resolutions are often based on society’s expectations of what you should do, and are often rooted in diet culture, as opposed to what you actually want. How many people set the resolutions of having more fun, connecting more with loved ones or reading a book a week? Not many, but perhaps these things might give our lives more meaning than quitting alcohol or sugar would? Related to this, resolutions are often negatively framed i.e. giving up stuff. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough negativity in 2020, so I’m not about to stop myself doing things that give me an ounce of pleasure. We need to hang on to the things that make us happy right now, and if that’s chocolate, beer or trashy TV then why on earth would you deprive yourself?
I understand that sometimes we want to change our behaviour to ultimately become healthier or happier, and that’s cool, behaviour change is amazing and it’s at the core of my livelihood. BUT I think there are better ways of doing it than setting an arbitrary resolution on 1st January because you feel like you should.
Firstly, don’t start then! Pick literally any other time of the year. This will mean there’s less pressure if you ‘slip up’ (although I don’t like this term, because everyone makes mistakes and that’s how we learn). Secondly, focus on adding things in to your life rather than cutting them out. This is a more positive approach to behaviour change. So say you want to get healthier, aim to take up a new sport as opposed to giving up takeaways. This way you’ll be adding new experiences to your life, which can improve wellbeing (and let’s face it, we all need as much wellbeing as we can get this January). Also, your goal needs to be achievable to give yourself the best chance of success – don’t try to run every day if you hate running, as you’ll just give up and then feel like you’ve failed. Pick something that seems small but could add up to make a big difference to your wellbeing, e.g. going outside for a 20 minute walk every day. I’d also advise you to focus on the process rather than the outcome. By that I mean rather than setting a vague resolution to lose weight, focus on being active daily, swapping cola for water and eating a portion of fruit or vegetables at every meal. If this is ‘healthier’ than your previous lifestyle it may well result in your goal of weight loss, but the emphasis is on how you’re going to get there, and you’ve got a roadmap to help you achieve it rather than just hoping it will happen.
But if setting a resolution seems like too much right now, I salute you. This is your reminder that you do not have to make a New Year’s Resolution this year or any other year, because you’re already brilliant as you are. I personally believe we need to work on unconditionally loving ourselves rather than constantly wanting to change. We’ve all been through a lot this year and we need to give ourselves a break. If you do want to set a goal then go for it, just remember to make it achievable, positive and process-driven, but if you don’t want to that is absolutely okay too.