Responding to New Year's Resolution Hate
If you follow my personal blog, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of making New Year’s resolutions. Each year, I write a post at some point in January reviewing all my resolutions from the prior year. I’ll talk about what went well, what went wrong, and what I learned. I usually follow that post with one introducing and explaining my resolutions for the coming year.
At this point, I should probably note that even though I’m a fan of New Year’s resolutions, that doesn’t mean I’m 100% successful at my resolutions.
So why do I continue to make and share resolutions every year?
The reason I make New Year’s resolutions, share them, and share what I’ve learned each year about the process is that I believe in the power of annual goal setting to help you get things done throughout the year, and I believe in sharing what I’ve learned about how to set effective goals in case my story helps you set better resolutions or annual goals for yourself.
If you are a person who has goals (and if you are reading this blog, you probably are), then you are also a person who wants to make progress towards your goals this year. And the first step in making progress toward your goals is to define them.
But with all the criticism you’ve likely read or heard about resolutions, you may be hesitant to call your goals resolutions or even work on defining those goals at the start of the new year.
So I think it’s time to respond to some of that criticism… so we can all move forward.
A Resolution Hate Roundup
These days, it seems trendier to make fun of or outright hate New Year’s resolutions than it does to make any. I’m not even sure I understand all the complaints against resolutions at this point, but I’ll respond to some of the more common issues I’ve read about, seen online and experienced personally.
1) New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work
Let’s start with a basic argument against resolutions that makes logical sense: the argument that they simply don’t work. Each year, a plethora of articles come out sharing slightly different but generally dismal statistics about how many people are successful at completing whatever they resolved to do that year (spoiler alert: it isn’t many). The answer to this problem seems simple to me: we need to focus on making better, more effective resolutions, because many people don’t. While many of these articles about the dismal resolution stats draw the same conclusion that I do (and follow up their stats with tips on how to make your resolutions more effective so that you’ll be more likely to succeed at them), some of these articles seem to imply the answer is to simply not resolve to do anything at all.
My response to THAT idea is in the next section…
2) The Negativity Argument About New Year’s Resolutions
In the many articles I’ve read arguing why resolutions don’t work, there are two branches of a common argument I’ll call the ‘negativity argument’.
One is that any goals worded with a negative in the front of the goal (quit smoking, stop using social media, stop eating junk food, stop watching TV, etc.) put you in a negative mindset about yourself and therefore don’t work. Here’s the problem with that assertion: even if these example resolutions start with a negative, they are often based on an underlying positive goal that you do want to accomplish (for example: quitting smoking and junk food tie in with an underlying goal of wanting to get healthier). However, if you were to make your resolution to “get healthier” you would run into a whole different issue, because that goal is too vague and isn’t measurable. I agree that these goals that start with negatives could be ineffective, just like any resolution could, but I disagree that the reason they are ineffective is because of the wording. If you aren’t focused on WHY you want to do something, you aren’t invested in doing that thing, or you have no strategy in place to accomplish that thing... it likely means that is an ineffective goal you won't succeed at accomplishing, regardless of how you decide to word it.
The other branch of this negativity argument makes even less sense to me personally, but here’s my stab at summarizing it: at least some of the people who hate New Year’s resolutions seem to believe that the very act of setting goals or resolutions for yourself will make you less happy, because resolutions are an acknowledgement of the fact that your current status isn’t “good enough” since you are resolving to somehow change that status. My general question to anyone making this argument is what exactly they propose as an alternative: never resolve to do anything or set any goals? (Unsurprisingly, the articles I’ve read that make this argument never seem to offer any alternative). The other problem with this argument is that it assumes making resolutions suddenly makes us aware of our goals... as if we weren’t already aware of them. You may call your resolutions or life goals something different, but most people I know have at least a general idea of what they want to accomplish in life. Therefore, the opposite of this argument makes more sense to me personally: if you know you want to do something in your life, and you never take steps to define that thing, create a strategy to make it a reality or try to make it a reality, won’t you be even less happy over the long term? Because you’ll always be wondering what if you had tried?
3) New Year’s Resolutions Must Be Built On A Habit Streak
This is one of the issues I see most in the resolution hate commentary, so I'm writing a separate post just about habit streaks that I’ll link here when it is completed. In summary, this is the idea that if you resolve to go to the gym three times a week this year, then you have a week where you only go two times, you should probably just quit since you “failed”. But if your underlying reason for going to the gym was to get stronger, then you didn’t fail... all you did was break your streak. You can just go to the gym three times next week. If you are a person who is motivated by this type of approach, great, because the point of habit streaks is to motivate you, not to give you excuses to quit trying. If habit streaks aren’t motivating to you or have a negative effect on you (they make you want to quit), then ignore them completely and use tactics that motivate you personally.
4) New Year’s Resolutions Are An Excuse To Not Start
Funnily enough, this overly literal interpretation of New Year’s resolutions is probably the most common argument I’ve seen against them. It’s this argument, which I’m sure you have seen around the internet: “What's so special about January 1st?”
Honestly, nothing. If the idea of a clean slate at the beginning of the new year doesn’t appeal to you or motivate you in any way whatsoever, then do exactly what you did with the habit streak mentioned above and ignore it. The underlying idea here is that you should have some point where you can review your annual goals — what worked and what didn’t — and set new annual goals for the next year, because long term goals can get buried under day-to-day, shorter term tasks if we don’t set aside time to review them. Do your own personal annual review in March or November if you want. Or spend every weekend in January reviewing and resetting goals like I usually do: despite these arguments, there isn’t a rulebook anywhere saying you need to start on January 1st or wait until next year. If something comes up in between your annual reviews that you want to add to your list or adjust on your existing list, then do it. It’s your list of goals, it should evolve as you do (WHEN you do).
5) Some People Simply Won’t Like The Fact That You Are Going Places
After years of setting aggressive resolutions and sharing them online and with friends and family, I unfortunately have experienced some criticism of my resolutions that has nothing to do with the first four items in this list. It doesn’t come from a place of not believing in resolutions in general for one of these reasons above, because it isn’t an attack on resolutions generally.
It’s an attack on my resolutions. Personally.
Generally, this criticism of my resolutions is built on an argument that they shouldn’t count or are too easy for some reason, and ironically, this criticism tends to come from people who don’t make resolutions at all.
I’m not sure where this type of resolution criticism comes from, so the only advice I can give on this category is not to let other people waste your time or get you off track... just make the resolutions you want and need to make for yourself and keep moving forward.
Let's Drop the Hate
Although I’m attacking some of these arguments against resolutions directly in this post for not making much sense, the overall idea of arguing against resolutions does make sense.
Because blaming our resolutions for the fact that we are often unsuccessful at achieving them is easier than the alternative: blaming ourselves.
There is a reason that even the articles that ultimately give you tips on creating more effective resolutions will start by bashing resolutions. Because if they started by bashing the person who made the resolutions, their articles probably wouldn’t sit as well with readers.
Here’s my argument: no bashing is necessary at all. We don’t need to beat ourselves up or beat resolutions up, we just need to focus on making better resolutions. Resolutions shouldn’t be made in such a way that we end up hating ourselves, and they shouldn’t be made in such a way that we end up hating resolutions and never making any again.
All that hate is counterproductive.
Because you have places to go, and more important things that need your energy.
Need some help figuring out how to make more effective resolutions? Our next post will go into depth on that. Stay tuned!