11 January 2023

Why do new year's resolutions get such a bad rap?

| Zoya Patel
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Pssst … there really isn’t a difference between 31 December and 1 January – you don’t need the new year to build a new you. Photo: Supplied.

I’m a sucker for ‘new year, new you’ vibes.

I love nothing more than an opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months, garner some lessons from the highs and lows, and set refocussed intentions for the coming year ahead.

In fact, every New Year’s Eve, my best friends and I enjoy a tradition of sharing our highlights from the year that was, lessons we’ve learned, and our goals for the next 12 months. It’s one of my favourite things to do and sharing it makes the process feel even more meaningful.

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Don’t get me wrong – I know that new year’s resolutions can feel like setting yourself up for failure, and unfortunately, they’ve been tainted by diet culture and consumerism over the decades, with resolutions seen to automatically imply ‘self-improvement’, especially in relation to our appearance.

I’m a woman existing in the world – I’ve watched the advertising at my gym shift in November to messaging all about harnessing the new year to get the ‘body I want’ etc. And I also know intellectually that there is no actual difference between your resolve on 31 December and 1 January, regardless of what your goals are.

However, I do think that psychologically, having the opportunity to ‘reset’ and refocus your goals and intentions is very useful, and the beginning of a new year is a natural opportunity to do so.

The trick, in my opinion, is to set goals that are about how you live your life every day, not big targets that you want to attain. My friends and I focus our goals around daily actions or behaviours that we want to try and incorporate into our lives.

Instead of setting some reductive and unhealthy weight loss target, we might instead aim to do some form of exercise for 10 minutes every day. One friend has set the goal of being more present when she’s at home, specifically not having her phone near her during meal times and when spending time with her partner.

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Another friend noted that she did such a good job with last year’s goal of setting better boundaries that she finally has the mental energy and free time to take on a new hobby or project, so one of her goals is to pick a new thing.

We also set big-picture goals, which tend to carry over year to year. These are tangible things, like my partner’s goals for his ultra marathon times this year or my own goals with my horses (I have three, and they each have different competition or training goals for the year). Career goals fit into this basket too, and then we chunk them down into specific things to attempt in the year ahead that might get us closer to our bigger goals five years from now.

Yes, we don’t always retain the focus on our resolutions throughout the year, but I’ve found that we do tend to hold onto at least some of them, and part of it is because of the consistency of the ritual and our commitment to it.

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Outside of this group of friends, though, almost everyone I’ve asked about resolutions has looked at me like I’ve suggested something abhorrent and told me that they never think of setting any. One friend said she’s old enough to know her behaviour won’t change just because it’s a new year. Another said she thinks they’re toxic.

She’s not wrong in pointing out the way that companies capitalise off the new year to push products at us, and I’m sure this is a busy time of year for gym memberships, life coaches and bullet journal producers, but are new year’s resolutions inherently bad?

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If you need to change or fix something in your life, why wait until New Year!? Fer C’s sake!!!

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