Are New Year's Resolutions Harmful Instead of Helpful?

Why making the wrong resolutions can actually do more harm than good.
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Created by Marios Stamos

Published on Jan 1, 2023
a piece of paper that reads "new year resolutions" with a pen placed below it on a black background

The New Year is here and being emotionally charged is a reoccurring theme this time of the year. How couldn’t it be?

After all, we are about to enter a new chapter of our lives. One door closes, and a new one opens. We prepare ourselves for new things: new beginnings, new experiences, and maybe even a new way of life.

According to a new YouGov survey, "one in five Britons (21%) say they will make a New Year's resolution for 2023". Being healthier or more fit is the New Year's Resolution that 53% of the surveyees aim for. 

Wanting to be a better student, eat healthier, exercise more, quit smoking, save money, be a better parent, and take up new hobbies are some of the most common resolutions that pretty much everyone had at least once on the first day of January. 

At that moment, when the clock is about to strike 12, we might feel eager to chase our goals, almost like we're kids that are about to open their Christmas presents. But how often do we actually go through with our resolutions? 

A common trait that most resolutions share is wishing for an ideal version of our future selves. On the surface, this might seem harmless, but it can quickly lead to feelings of resentment towards ourselves. Instead of looking to take steps to become a better student or feasible ways to stop smoking, you get frustrated about your current shortcomings.

The above goals seem more like a form of self-rejection than actual attempts at making a difference for the better. Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman, psychology professors at the University of Toronto, refer to the above practice as "false hope syndrome". According to them, we tend to set unrealistic goals that have harmful consequences on our mood and self-image if we don't succeed. 

Having healthy self-esteem and being accepting of one's self are essential pillars for making positive and lasting changes. If we come to terms with who we are, we can both set achievable goals and avoid crumbling under the pressure of the unattainable expectations we set for ourselves.

The radiant holiday season sheds light on the dark and unspoken sadness of this paradoxical time of upcoming changes. We owe it to ourselves to end each year on a positive note. Maybe you achieved some or all of your goals; maybe you didn't. Either way, don't be too hard on yourself. 

What matters the most is to make it in one piece to the next New Year and to the next after that, and it goes on and on.

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