- New Year’s resolutions are a great way of testing ourselves and improving willpower. But they can also do more harm than good.
- Psychologist Niels Eék, the co-founder of mental health and well-being app Remente, told Insider you should only really consider making a resolution if deadlines are a good motivator for you. Otherwise, you’ll probably fail pretty quickly.
- Setting a goal can trick the brain into thinking you’ve already achieved something. But this means more disappointment if your resolution isn’t going according to plan.
- “By not meeting your goal, your brain will react as if you have taken something away that it already had and, therefore, will become upset and react by cutting off your supply of dopamine [the feel-good hormone],” Eék said. “Feelings of anger, disappointment, and embarrassment may arise instead.”
- If you’ve lost sight of why you made the resolution and it’s making you feel like a miserable failure, then you should probably throw in the towel.
We’re nearing the middle of January, and chances are your New Year’s resolution is already feeling like a bit of a battle. Resolutions are a helpful tool for testing ourselves and improving our willpower, but if you’re having a really hard time sticking to your new vow, you might be better off giving up.
Psychologist Niels Eék, the co-founder of mental health and well-being app Remente, told Insider resolutions can offer us direction if we’re suffering from end-of-year anxiety about what we actually achieved in the previous 12 months, and making clear future goals can really help us focus.
“The extent to which resolutions can help you will depend on your personality, though,” he said. “Consider if having a deadline and an annual roadmap is a good motivator for you, or if it will make you procrastinate and stress. If it’s the latter, New Year’s resolutions might not be for you.”
Walk before you can run
Bereavement and trauma specialist Terri Daniel, the author of “Grief and God: When Religion Does More Harm Than Healing,” told Insider for most people, New Year’s resolutions are “more of a joke than a commitment.”
“The joke is supported by the advertising industrial complex, which sees a huge increase in the sale of diet products and gym memberships every January,” she said. “So if you make a resolution on New Year’s Day only to forget about it three weeks later, you are the rule, not the exception.”
Many people set resolutions that they’re simply not going to stick to, like signing up for a marathon when they’ve never put on a pair of running shoes in their life.
According to Statista, the most common resolutions include “exercise more” and “lose weight,” but only about a quarter of people are actually able to keep them. Eék said this is because it requires a lot of effort to change habits that are ingrained in us.
“To succeed, you not only need to keep your own motivation intact, you will also need to consider the environment you live in, the company you keep, and your day-to-day routines,” he said. “For instance, if your resolution is to ‘lose weight,’ going on a diet might work for a little while until your cravings take over.”
Being clear about why you’ve made certain resolutions also helps in the fight against losing interest. If it’s something based on what you want, not what other people and society think you should do, there’s a much better chance you’ll persist with it.
RELATED VIDEO: Tips to Stick With Your 2020 Resolutions [Provided by CBS Los Angeles]
To give up or not to give up?
Daniel said if a commitment doesn’t come from the heart, it’s not going to stick.
“Making extreme commitments on a specified holiday because popular culture prescribes it is not a firm foundation for that intention to take root,” she said. “Instead, consider making simple resolutions every day or every hour about small things that are easy to manage.”
For example, try starting every day with the intention of counting to ten before you react to an annoying coworker. Or pick things you can improve at over time, like being a better listener, driving more carefully, or watching less TV news.
Resolutions are supposed to be a challenge, and when life throws you a curveball, it’s all part of the fun, Eék said.
“Expect setbacks and disappointments along the way,” he said. “If you stay focused and inspired, though, I’m sure you’ll achieve your goal before the year is over.”
Also, neuroscientific research has found that the brain struggles to distinguish between what we want and what we have.
“As such, setting a goal can have a powerful effect on the brain as it can trick the brain into believing it has already accomplished the goal, making your desired outcome part of the brain’s self-image,” Eék said. “This is what makes goal-setting such a powerful tool.”
On the other hand, this means your brain can be your harshest critic, he said, which makes it even more disappointing if your resolution isn’t going to plan.
“By not meeting your goal, your brain will react as if you have taken something away that it already had and, therefore, will become upset and react by cutting off your supply of dopamine [the feel-good hormone],” Eék said. “Feelings of anger, disappointment, and embarrassment may arise instead.”
It’s likely you’ll hit a wall at some point, which means it could be time to readjust. But if you’ve reflected on why you’re not succeeding, made some changes, and you still don’t feel any motivation whatsoever, then it might be time to throw in the towel.
These are some tell-tale signs you should give up on your resolution:
- You’ve lost sight of why you decided to do it in the first place.
- You keep thinking that you “should” instead of “want” to keep going.
- Your plans have changed and your resolution no longer fits in.
- It’s negatively affecting your mental health.
Essentially, if you’ve lost sight of the point of the resolution you made, it’s making you feel like a miserable failure, and it’s getting in the way of you achieving anything else, then you should give yourself a break.
“Remember, at the end of the day, a resolution is there to help you, not to cripple you,” said Eék. “If it’s continuously doing the latter, simply let it go.”