When New Year’s Resolutions Get You Down

Three people stand close together, holding lit sparklers together.

A few years ago, I decided to be done with New Year’s resolutions. I get it, it’s “new year, new you!” It seems like the perfectly logical thing to do. What better time is there to set goals and pursue change? 🤩 

Well, I’d argue: just about any other time of the year. 😅

The last week of December is a period when I can legitimately forget what day of the week it is. The days all seem to blend together into “post-holidays.” I’m full of cookies and hot chocolate. Mealtimes are marked by standing in front of the fridge and wondering why there’s nothing to eat. 

Nothing about this time says “What a great opportunity to set the most ambitious goals of the year for myself!” In what world am I going to be able to turn it around from extreme couch potato to inspirational overachiever like that? That’s why I find New Year’s resolutions to be wildly unrealistic.

Besides, take a cue from nature: January is hardly the time that plants and animals really burst into life. Instead, the trees are bare, waiting for warmer months ahead, and animals spend a lot of time sleeping, stocked up on food, and with thick coats of fur to keep them warm. (Now that I can get behind!)

But I do understand the urge to harness that transformational energy of New Year’s. So what do I do now?

Instead of resolutions, I choose a word (or two!) for the year

When I stopped making New Year’s resolutions, I wanted something to fill their place, but I didn’t want to fall into the same trap of setting difficult-to-achieve goals that required more than I was capable of, especially coming off the holiday season and all the exhaustion that comes along with it. It was my partner, Joel, who suggested we each choose a single word to try to embody that year, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

Here are some ways this could work:

Turning the idea of resolutions on their head 🔃

That first year I chose a word for the year, I’d been reflecting on how daily life felt like a race.  I often found myself in a default state of rushing through things and trying to do more in every hour of the day than I was humanly capable of doing… and it was really wearing me down. 😞 I was aware that this was contributing to how tired I felt all the time and how often I was disappointed in myself at the end of the day, but I wasn’t sure how to counteract it. 

So instead of choosing a word that would contribute to that sort of behavior, I chose the word slow. I spent the year intentionally trying to slow down. This meant spending more time noticing things, enjoying moments, and changing the way I did things to try to make more time for tasks that needed my attention. 

It worked, and I found myself thinking about the word when I was in decision moments, the times when I found myself trying to decide whether to do things the old way or try something new.

Honoring the spirit of would-be resolutions

If you did set resolutions this year (or had some ideas about what you might like to do), spend some time thinking about the spirit behind those resolutions or goals. If all the resolutions that come to mind seem to fit into a category together, try to boil that down into a single word that might point you in the right direction.

Are you aiming to improve some aspect of your life, like spending more time enjoying the good things? Perhaps enjoy or savor would be a good word for you. Are you hoping to build a new routine and stick to it? Try structure or organize. Is there something you’re lacking that you’re trying to add, like a new focus on physical activity? Move, strength, or even play might be a good choice. 

You may still want to sit down and define some new habits you’re looking to build over the next year, but you can avoid the soul-crushing situation of promising yourself you’re going to go to the gym five days a week and then getting to the end of January and realizing you aimed too high. Instead, maybe you wake up and think to yourself, “How can I move today?” and go for a walk with a friend, try a new fitness class, or just do a little dancing while you make supper. 💃

Choose a personal word and a work word

If your personal goals and professional goals are a little out-of-step with each other (or maybe polar opposites), decide to define two separate words for those spheres

Maybe my story about slow resonated with you personally and you’d like to stop rushing so much, but you also really want this to be The Year for your business. 🤩 Your words don’t have to make sense with each other as long as they guide you toward the places you want to be! Maybe it’s the year of slow and expansion, even if that seems counterintuitive to somebody else.

Ask a friend, partner, or coworker to choose a word too

New Year’s resolutions often fall through because they’re individualistic to a fault: “I’m going to make this huge change by the power of my will alone!” Lacking accountability and support can be a huge reason why changes don’t stick, so let’s ensure our words of the year don’t fall prey to the same problem.

Ask someone you talk to regularly or spend a lot of time with to choose a word as well and then set up the expectation that you’ll check in on each other. Maybe you even want to make a pact that you’ll call them out if you see them acting against their word and they’ll do the same for you. 

Quitting Week 📅

I saw someone joke on social media that it’s Quitting Week: when everyone gives up on their New Year’s resolutions. So if you’ve found yourself participating in Quitting Week (or contemplating it), take this as permission to take those resolutions and transform them into a word or two for the year.

(If you’re curious, my word for 2024 is tend. I spent a lot of last year pursuing change and working on things that I kept struggling with. I got to the end of 2023 and realized that I’m in a good place after all that hard work, and instead of choosing the next mission for self-improvement, I’d like to spend a year really supporting the growth I’ve already worked so hard to accomplish. Like someone might tend to their garden, I’m going to spend the year tending to the things I’ve chosen to build and foster. 🌿 (If you like my word, feel free to steal it!)

If you choose a word for your year, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to leave me a comment below letting me know your word and why you chose it.

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