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How New Years Resolutions Affect Mental Health

December and January are all about goals and resolutions, but I honestly don’t believe in all that shit.

I don’t understand why people wait all year to set a goal they won’t even work towards. They’re only setting it because they were peer pressured into it. This probably all started in the Industrial Revolution. Some pencil-pusher boss probably pressured some carpet-walker manager into telling him what he was going to accomplish for a year.

That being said, I LOVE goals. I remember the cute look I got when my partner realized I knew what SMART goals were. (More on that later) Goals have driven my entire career and thus my life. I have striven to be better than both myself and whoever I chose as my “Competition Bitch”. I have achieved things I never would have thought because I set goals I might not have fully believed I could achieve when I set them and built on that. If you had told me I would be where I am today when I was in high school, I would have laughed.

So, what’s the difference between goals and New Year Resolutions? Have you given up on your NYR yet? If you haven’t given up completely, can you say you’ve progressed more days than not?

If you’re operating the way a goal should be addressed, you would have a pretty good idea about how on track you are (or aren’t) to getting where you want to be. Goals have specific actions you take at specific times so you can see patterns in how you act, and what’s holding you back.

74% of Americans set a 2021 NYR goal. (down tremendously in 2022 - 39% Only 55% of Americans believe they have a shot at making a dent in their goal. Why did the fuck did the other 19% even set a goal? I can take the mystery out of that one pretty quickly for you. They were likely at Thanksgiving and a relative asked them what they did this year. Realizing it wasn’t much to note or much more than the last year, they either made up a story or changed the subject. Come Christmas time, another relative (maybe even the same one), asks about their NYR. Between the shame of not accomplishing what they “should” have done this year, the relatives, and the incessant New Years Instagram posts, they set a Resolution. Their Moms called it when she asked if they were going to jump off a bridge if their friends did it first.

There’s a certain culture around NYR that makes it hard to opt-out. Everyone asks, even though they don’t really care to know the answer, and definitely have no interest in helping you succeed. Yet most shame you if you don’t have one. Sometimes, they shame others too in order to make themselves feel better once they give in.

“EVERYONE should have to do it if I have to do it.”

New Year’s Resolutions are an excellent excuse and double as a cop-out! Such a versatile tool. It can be used to avoid doing things you know you’ve been putting off for probably more than a couple of New Years'. “I will wait until after the holidays.”

Once the holidays are over, there’s a new excuse, and the resolution turns into a cop-out. It doesn’t matter much, though. You won’t look bad. Everyone’s doing it.

That only represents 19% of people. There’s still 55% of people who really think they will achieve their goals this year, but less than 8% of people stuck with their goals last year. What can we do for the remaining people who have hope, even if it has started to wane already?

Mental Health is greatly affected by missed goals. A company I used to work for did a survey, and 41% of the staff reported missing sales goals as their #1 contributor to stress. The fear of failure motivates some, but it debilitates others. When someone with depression misses their goal, it often leads to negative self-talk

This study talks about how vague goals without specifics can actually increase depression and negative thoughts. That’s the opposite of what we are trying to do! All those people who set resolutions this year who really think they have a shot at making it work but have no structure to their goal are going to be emotionally sore in a couple of weeks if they aren’t already.

The World Health Organization (WHO), defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” If our mission is to destigmatize mental health, encouraging a culture where people set toxic goals, which could turn into toxic habits definitely falls into the category of “unhelpful.”

January is designated as Mental Wellness Month by the International Association of Insurance Professionals (IAIP). I had never heard of this association before I found this awareness month on a reputable calendar last year. While writing this, I am dismayed to say I have yet to find anything about mental health awareness on their social media platforms yet this year. I am doing my best to give them the benefit of the doubt. I like it enough, that I decided to use my voice to work at ending the stigma in their stead.

What about New Years Resolutions makes them flop so hard? Firstly, can we pick apart the “New year, new me” thing for a second? I gag when I hear it, or more appropriately this year, see it all over Instagram. How in the world does that make sense? The turn of a calendar page means you’re a completely different person? So what happens when you hit a lifelong trigger that reminds you of that horrible experience you had as a kid, and all your “old you” behaviors flood back in. Where does your mental health stand in that shitshow? It’s unrealistic and unfair to you to even try to remake yourself in one night. Not to mention, it discredits all the work you’ve done so far.

NYR are too balls to the wall. They’re too all or nothing. You either succeed, or you fail, but not much is set in your favor to succeed. So when you fail, you don’t dust yourself off and try again, you quit, and it’s equally socially acceptable to quit as it is pressured to set. The logic is missing here, and I hope you’re beginning to see the fallacies. If you try to juggle too many things, you’re bound to drop one or two, especially if you go from not ever juggling, to expect yourself to juggle 7 balls at once and act like a toddler on the ground after being told no if you drop even 1.

With 44% of Americans setting health and fitness goals, we run into even more problems. Say your NYR is to “Get in shape.” What exactly does that mean? How do you measure that goal? How can you tell if you’ve succeeded or not? My story was similar. My goal was always “Get in shape,” but I never knew what “in shape” meant to me, I didn’t know what it would look like on me, I didn’t know what was realistic for my body structure, I didn’t know what weight level would make me “happy”. I couldn’t even place myself on the “What shape ass do you have?” charts on Pinterest. I just wanted to “look good”. Here’s the thing, looking good is subjective! Not only to personal preferences but the person I was when I was a chub, is not the same person I am today as a skinny bitch. What “looks good” has changed immensely for me on my 70lb weight-loss journey.

That’s not all, folks. You might relate when I talk about my actions towards actually trying to achieve these NYR. I would try to exercise. Today-Me just tried to delete that sentence because I know that’s not a measurable goal, and not something I would want to put in a blog post, but legitimately, that would be an “action” I would judge my success on in the past! I would set out with a “workout once a day” goal. Seemed realistic considering back in high school I played football and it was uncommon to only workout once in a day. If I could hack it back then, I can totally hack once a day now, even though I haven’t worked out in 3 years, I have 4 kids, a job, a side business, and I got suckered into a meal train. I got this. No big deal. I’m going to look so good! Why stop there? I want to look good right? Everyone says you can work out all day but it doesn’t matter if your diet isn’t on point. So I guess I’m going on a diet too! No more carbs for me, nope, not even the kind in VEGETABLES. Don’t forget! You can’t be on this healthy kick and still feel good about drinking an energy drink or two (or three) a day anymore. Nope, everything says working out and having a diet means nothing if you don’t flush out all the past years of fuckups in your millionth trip to the bathroom today because you’re finally drinking 8 glasses of water. Energy drinks are GONE. It’s ok, everything is fine. My cucumber water will totally sustain me. I can still definitely workout once a day, completely change my diet, which means relearning how to cook for my family of 6 because they all like healthy food and definitely won’t complain, and my job won’t make that hard, and my side-business won’t sap time away from meal prep. I’ve totally got this! Without any energy drinks. I’ve got this. ...right? Shit. I forgot about the meal train again.

There are some benefits to starting goals at the beginning of the year. I encourage you to stop this pattern and set goals year-round, but for now, capitalize on the fact that everyone wants to help keep you accountable to your goal. There is a certain buzz around people who are succeeding with their NYR but be wary, because they are one faceplant away from giving up too. Don’t rely on them for your motivation, just let them help you get in the mood to kick your goal’s ass.

You also get an awesome Dopamine rush when you accomplish a task. This is why I love lists so much. Sometimes I put things on my list that I am about to accomplish, just so I can mark it off and get that little rush of excitement of having done something. Treat your goals like this. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. It will help keep you moving towards the bigger successes that are more tangible.

Did you know that in any given month (except January), ⅕ people who have a gym membership, don’t attend even once? Gyms thrive on New Years Resolutions and this fad keeps them in the black every month. Instead of following what everyone else does, if you really want to kick your goals in the ass; Stop drowning yourself in self-placed expectations and set realistic goals. I personally am a huge fan of SMART goals.


- How the fuck are you actually going to know what you want to change? “Being happier” isn’t specific enough for you to accomplish anything with your goals. Something like, “spending more time with others“ is specific and leads you to take action.


- When you bake, do you just throw random shit in and hope for the best? Nah, you measure it out to create the perfect gooey dessert. Same with your goals. If you want a great outcome, put a number on that shit that lets you know when you hit the mark.


- Can you ACTUALLY do the thing you are creating a goal for? Sometimes, we want something so badly we don't think about if we actually believe the goal is attainable.


- We always want the thing and want it NOW! However, it’s rare to get the thing we want without a ridiculous amount of work. So be real with where you are and set your goal based on where you are in comparison with where you want to be. Not just where you want to be.


- We need deadlines for ourselves because otherwise, we can always rationalize doing the thing tomorrow. Make the deadline so you can push that shit off.

Something important to note: When you’re setting goals, you need to make a point to only work on one little thing at a time, and build up from there. The Catholics are probably the best at setting unrealistic expectations for themselves then guilting themselves for falling through. Even they only pick one thing to give up for Lent.

Ask yourself these questions to make sure your goal is worthwhile right now.

  • If I succeed, what will change in the next 5 years?

  • If I fail, what damage will result of not changing?

  • What do I have to gain from this goal?

  • What are the potential losses of achieving my goal?

  • What can I handle before I’m willing to quit?

If your goal was to “Get in shape” maybe start with “Drink 8 glasses of water a day.” Once you feel like you’ve nailed that goal in the face, move on to a slightly bigger baby step of “eat 2 healthy meals a week”, and go from there. Your Mom was onto something with that one, too, take baby steps and don't bite off more than you can chew. If you need an easy win to get you started, start with something as small as making your bed in the morning. It doesn’t have to be Grandma’s standards, just pull the bedspread up and straighten your pillows. Mark it on the calendar, and see how long you can keep the streak up.

If you are just seeing this and you feel committed to your unrealistic goal, or you’ve already fallen off the wagon, it’s ok. I have a secret, one that will let you out of a lot of guilt. Lean in, because even when people hear it, they miss this one a lot.

You don’t have to wait to start. If you’re already failing at your NYR, you don’t have to give into 2023 already. You don’t even have to wait until Monday. Start today. The sooner you start making promises to yourself, and following through, the closer you will get to trust you can achieve the goals you set.

If your NYR, whether before or after reading this post is to work on your mental health, consider subscribing to our Mental Health SubBoxes that will provide tangible resources, but also products that help make mental health tangible. 

Dickson JM, Moberly NJ, O’Dea C, Field M (2016) Goal Fluency, Pessimism and Disengagement in Depression. PLoS ONE 11(11): e0166259.

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1 Comment

Prajakta Palkar
Prajakta Palkar
Jan 07, 2023

What you have talked about New year goals is so true. Majority of population enjoy the year end celebration and want to make amends and end up making NYR. But what you sai d makes sense to set goals all year round.

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