How New Year’s resolutions impact mental health

It’s that time of year again where we begin wrapping up and reflecting on our biggest accomplishments of the year. In those moments of reflection, some of us may tend to find flaws in ourselves and begin to create lofty goals that are difficult to reach in the new year. While the new year is a fresh start full of opportunities, there is often immense pressure to achieve better versions of ourselves.

Unfortunately, there is an unspoken rule that resolutions should be all or nothing extremities. Our competitive culture has instilled in us this idea of punishing ourselves if we don’t succeed at something, and ultimately we can end up hurting ourselves more. This pressure to perform well and achieve these unreasonable goals might lead us to fail more than it does to help us succeed. Studies have shown that only eight percent of people who make a New Year’s resolution will follow through all year, and 80 percent of people quit by February. Some reasons that lead people to fail at keeping their goals moving forward include existing extremities (all or nothing behavior), having little or no accountability, or setting goals that are not measurable.

The issue with these types of goals is that they can lead to some degree of self-sabotage before you realize it. The idea is that we shoot for the stars, but life doesn’t always work that way. If you don’t ease your way into your goals, you might find yourself failing more. When we fail, it might impact our mental health in negative ways and can perpetuate a cycle of slipping back into old habits.

You can create healthy resolutions by following these steps:

  • Be reasonable. Expect yourself to fail at times, and know that results might be slow-moving. Understand that life happens and things can get in the way of your goals, so try to ensure your goals are healthy and can be achieved without harming your physical or mental health.
  • Create a timeline. Try to avoid being rigid in your timeline, and understand that your timeline should not be compared to anyone else’s. It will be more proactive and productive to make small, incremental goals instead of extreme expectations.
  • Monitor progress. Understand that nothing changes overnight, so it might be helpful to find an accountability partner to help you monitor progress. Keep a journal to acknowledge your feelings regarding your progress, and document your feelings about your goals and what obstacles you face.
  • Allow flexibility. Offer yourself flexibility and give yourself grace. If you don’t do well this month, try again next month! Instead of trying to set goals that might not benefit your mental health, find activities that make you happy instead.

The new year does not have to be a brand new you. Take the time to do something fun and adventurous, and prioritize your health over punishing yourself. If you find yourself struggling in giving yourself grace and putting pressure on yourself, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional. They can provide more tools on ways to set goals and how to create healthy boundaries with yourself.

Martha Bowman is the Manager of Adult and Family Services at Centerstone, a nonprofit health system specializing in mental health and substance use disorders. You can learn more about Centerstone by visiting centerstone.org.

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