December is THE month to look back on all of the terrible choices you’ve made over the past 365 days, and to consider all the parts of your life that suck. Your tendency to eat Twinkies instead of lunch. Your messy desk. Your drinking habit. The fact that you’re single. The list goes on. Resolutions are the only way out.
Not to be cynical, but the not-so-shocking truth is that committing to New Year’s resolutions is a totally different story than actually following through with them. There are numbers to prove it: about 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% stick to them.
Self-improvement is a noble pursuit, but let’s face it: January 1st is really just another day. The same way lengthy to-do lists are a form of procrastination, New Year’s resolutions are ironically a way to ensure that you won’t actually make sustainable changes in your life.
With that, here are some New Year’s resolutions you shouldn’t make:
Losing weight (including sub-resolutions like exercising every day, becoming vegan, or completely changing your diet)
What could be more American than spending all of November and December blowing money on food and alcohol in celebration of “the holiday season,” then spending January buying gym memberships and juice cleanses?
It’s no shocker that losing weight ranked as the No. 1 New Year’s resolution in 2015. Unfortunately, losing weight may be simple -- eat better, exercise more -- but it’s not easy. If it were, it wouldn’t consistently be a top-ranked resolution.
Making weight loss healthy and sustainable involves more than getting hopped up on diet pills or over-exercising. It involves making behavioral changes, which involves “rewiring your brain.” Rewiring one’s brain to make healthier dietary choices, for instance, can’t just involve a mental note “not to eat unhealthy food.” In fact, negating an old habit can strengthen that habit’s neural pathway. To create a new behavior, you first have to practice a new pattern of thinking.
The caveat here is if you’ve struggled with alcoholism (or an unhealthy relationship with alcohol), perhaps this is a good resolution that doesn't need to come on January 1st!
In other cases, though, this resolution causes problems similar to what happens with weight loss. If you’ve been hitting the bottle too hard and simply feel like a break, take a break. But putting an unrealistic expectation on yourself -- such as “Drynuary” -- can be counterproductive. Psychology professor Peter Herman has coined the term “false hope syndrome,” referring to the phenomenon of setting unrealistic goals. When you set your expectations too high, you inevitably can’t measure up to your false hopes.
Also, doing Drynuary means not drinking for 31 days during the coldest time of the year. Remember this!
Falling in love
Come on. Just because you watched Love Actually doesn't mean "THE ONE" is going to land in your lap.
As the idiom suggests, falling in love is a rather passive process. You're “falling” -- and who plans a fall? Still, every year, people resolve to fall in love -- not "go to more parties" or "spend more time on Tinder." Actual, veritable, ballads-and-butterflies love.
Setting the amorphous and impossible “resolution” that you’re going to fall in love in the new year is a recipe for failure and self-hatred. You'll inevitably feel crappy and probably desperate if you don't have success. Don’t put complicated, interpersonal stuff you can’t control on an agenda. That's weird and robotic, and will also make you sad.
Making more money or saving more money
This one is kind of like “falling in love,” though perhaps slightly more productive. But quite frankly, deciding to make or save lots of money is kind of sprawling and unspecific, and probably sets you up to fail.
If you want to save money, make a budget. Evaluate your expenses and your income and actually get concrete about what “saving money” looks like. If you want to make more money, that probably means you want a new job, which is a concrete goal -- but one with a whole list of possible sub-resolutions.
All the other popular resolutions
Other annoying, fruitless resolutions are, unsurprisingly, some of the most popular. They include similarly general goals like “getting organized,” “enjoying life to the fullest,” and “learning something exciting." Setting vague and general goals is insanely dumb. On a physiological level, motivation requires a metaphorical sensation of “fire under your ass.” How could anyone feel fire under their ass about “enjoying life to the fullest”? That basically means nothing.
There are a few simple takeaways that will help you feel more productive and successful, whether it's in the new year or at some unspecified time down the road:
- Don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Instead think about changes you want to make throughout the year, and be patient with yourself.
- If you do make New Year’s resolutions, be specific and honest about what you’re really trying to get by fulfilling a certain goal. For instance, one’s resolution to “lose weight” might be more about a desire to feel more confident. Try to tap into the feeling you’re trying to achieve first, and see if that helps you readjust your expectations. And be realistic about said expectations.
- If you make resolutions and fall off the wagon, I won’t be sitting here thinking, “I told you so.” Treat yourself nicely and avoid self-judgment. Science says that self-forgiveness in the face of procrastination helps productivity. Remember that you’re only human.