Here's to making resolutions that won't fall by the wayside or damage your mental health. (Illustration by Adam Lee, Liberty University)
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Here's to making resolutions that won't fall by the wayside or damage your mental health. (Illustration by Adam Lee, Liberty University)

January 1 is quickly approaching. How can you set goals that will stick throughout the year and are not bad for mental health?

As a Forbes article from last year asserts: “Every year more than 50% of people make New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, work out, save money, get a promotion, get a raise, and more.” Yet, the article continues, about 4 out of 5 resolutions will be discarded by February.

So why exactly do our New Year’s resolutions fail? Often, our resolutions fail because we are not emotionally invested in our goals in the first place. We are so focused on the hubbub of Christmas and New Year’s, that by the time Jan. 1 rolls around, we scramble to think of resolutions (and often end up regurgitating the most popular goals — dieting, getting a gym membership, waking up earlier, etc.) without being truly invested in the goal in the first place.

This peer pressure to create an expansive list of goals often leads to inauthenticity, where we fail to connect meaning with our proposed New Year’s resolutions. This means that instead of thinking through why a resolution is beneficial to our own well-being, it lacks real emotional investment. Scrambling to create resolutions at the last minute is problematic, but failing to attach motivation to your resolution is equally (if not more) detrimental to your resolution’s viability.

Asking simple questions, like: “Why do I care about this goal?” and “How will this goal further my life, my passions?” are accurate predictors of whether you will follow through with your resolution, or abandon it along the way (perhaps even as early as February). The people who will pursue their resolutions tenaciously are the same people that can indeed find clear reasons to care about their goal, connecting it with a mobilizer.

A clear example of a motivator can be seen in the following example. Instead of setting the goal “I will be more outgoing this year,” set the goal “I will be more outgoing this year by taking small steps to voice my opinion in my friend group, family functions, class and the workspace because I care about my voice being heard and my opinion is important.” By establishing clear, concise goals, like this one, your resolution will not fizzle out as the year progresses. Linking real motivation and action to your resolution allows yourself to see real reason to make your resolution a lived reality throughout the year — and the rest of your life.

When you begin to feel your motivation for a resolution wane, work on developing a deep-rooted, emotional attachment to your goal. By developing this connection, you will be able to pursue it, through every trial and tribulation. Even if your New Year’s resolution(s) didn’t start off with impassioned emotions attached, you always have the power to reflect and do a bit of introspection. Afterward, you can transform your resolutions into goals that have great relevance to your life and passions. With a little bit of work, following through with your New Year’s resolutions is more than in your wheelhouse.

Beyond addressing how to set attainable goals, it’s crucial to acknowledge that New Year’s resolutions can be incredibly damaging to mental health. For example, setting goals to lose weight, start a new diet or exercise daily can lead to unhealthy lifestyles that hyper-focus on body image and numbers — both caloric and scale-wise.

Focusing on a specific number of pounds to lose, a certain size to fit into, or a rationed number of calories to eat every day is a slippery slope that is dangerous and unhealthy. This obsession with numbers can negatively impact mental health. As Clementine Programs (an eating disorder treatment program) acknowledges, resolutions can be incredibly destructive, especially for teens recovering from eating disorders. By setting strict New Year’s resolutions that center around fitness and eating restrictions, a vicious cycle can be initiated, not just for eating disorder survivors, but for anybody.

Rather than setting these critical, number-centered fitness goals, a holistic approach is much safer, healthier and likelier to succeed. Instead of setting restrictive, number-oriented resolutions, like losing 10 pounds, starting a new diet or working out for 40 minutes every single day, set holistic goals — like increasing physical activity and fitness as a whole, eating less red meat or experimenting with vegan recipes.

A few more examples of holistic fitness goals include: using exercise as a means to feeling happy instead of solely focusing on the scale, loving and accepting your body, appreciating your body for all the amazing things that it’s capable of, getting out of your comfort zone and trying a fitness class that you’ve always been scared to try or trying out a sport that you’ve never thought about before.

These comprehensive, broad goals will allow you to take small strides toward a healthier lifestyle (at an appropriate pace) as opposed to implementing strict, perilous regimens that will likely fail and leave you with a dangerous, restrictive mindset.

Holistic goals that extend beyond fitness and wellness that also stood out to me were (1) practicing gratitude, (2) moving your body, (3) unplugging from social media, (4) nourishing friendships and (5) keeping a journal. All of these New Year’s resolutions are tied to achieving a better life by nourishing your mental health. Each one prioritizes your mental health by improving your outlook on life and reconnecting with yourself, thereby making them attainable (due to their direct connection to bettering yourself).

Take the time this New Year’s Eve to craft New Year’s Resolutions that you really care about — ones that can change your life in a good way. Resolutions that are tied to your passions, your hopes, your dreams. Resolutions that will change your outlook on life for the better, that will allow you to reconnect with yourself. By creating New Year’s resolutions that have a direct connection to your life and passions, your goals will be more attainable and you will be changed for the better.

Writer Profile

Alexa Katherine Will

University of Pittsburgh
English Literature and English Writing

I’m Alexa Will, a passionate bookworm who’s always bursting with energy. I hardcore vibe with the bands Vampire Weekend and Hippocampus, and making art and writing bring me so much joy.

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