It’s a new year, and the “new year, new you” messaging is everywhere. But for once, I am not going to be sucked into the New Year’s resolution hype. Instead, I’m opting to do something I never thought I’d do: I’m boycotting New Year’s resolutions in 2023 — and I think you should too.
I cringe when I hear friends discuss how they are going to “shed that pesky baby weight” or “this is the year I kick the sugar habit for real.” Most of us are raised ringing in the new year with pomp and celebration. Ball drops, champagne toasts, well-wishing, and resolutions are abundant. However, if you’re like me, you likely don’t stick to these goals. And while that may seem harmless, the resolution process can prove more detrimental than beneficial.
Fortunately, there is a better alternative, self-compassion.
Failure Rates of New Year’s Resolutions Are Through the Roof
If the reason people don’t keep New Year’s resolutions is simply because they have no self-control, then I am in amazing company. A 2019 poll showed that only 9% of respondents kept their resolutions. But if only 9% of resolution makers keep them — maybe there’s something wrong with this practice?
It reminds me of the definition of insanity often attributed to Einstein. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
That tracks. So, why do we keep making resolutions only to not keep them and wind up feeling like a failure?
Failing to Achieve Your New Resolution Can Be Detrimental
So many people post on social media, about their resolutions, and it is inspiring and exciting to think about new beginnings. But if you aren’t going to keep the resolution, why do it? And how does that affect your self-esteem if you keep failing at something?
It reminds me of a similar situation I’ve been working on with my nutritionist. For years, I have weighed myself daily and written down the number in a fitness app. I have entries going back a decade. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I would even bring a scale with me on vacation, hidden in my suitcase. I would wait until no one was around and weigh myself.
After looking at the scale and not seeing a number I liked, I would tell myself, “only eat low-calorie, low-sugar foods today. You need to get your weight down.” I would carry around this mantle of shame through the day, knowing I was not good enough because I was not at the weight I wanted.
Several months ago, I began working with an Intuitive Eating certified nutritionist. When she heard about my daily weigh-ins, she became really concerned and asked if I would be okay with stopping the practice for a while.
Then she said something so profound it has stuck with me since: “If you weigh yourself every day, and the number on the scale is not what you want, then you walk around the entire day knowing you are a failure because you didn’t meet some imaginary metric you made up, which has no bearing on your actual health.”
This floored me. Through tears, I said to her, “I’ve been so cruel to myself.”
You would never tell a child every day, “you are not good enough today, maybe tomorrow,” – but this is exactly what I had been doing by weighing myself every day and then beating myself up if the number didn’t meet my “ideal” weight.
While not exactly a New Year’s resolution, the situation is similar. If you set a goal but don’t meet that goal, it can wreak havoc on your sense of self. It’s like waking up every day and saying, “I’m not good enough today but maybe tomorrow!” This misplaced optimism would crack even the most diligent goal-setters.
So, why are we starting every year with a self-esteem deficit built on a belief that we are somehow not enough just the way we are? Sounds a lot like self-criticism — and studies show that self-criticism is related to self-harm, can lead to increased risk for depression, and is correlated with anxiety and eating disorders.
In a nutshell, self-criticism isn’t great for you. And New Year’s resolutions (or perhaps the act of not succeeding in completing your New Year’s resolutions) could lead to self-criticism, or self-criticism’s twin — shame.
That sounds unpleasant. So this year, I propose we save ourselves the shame-inducing, self-critical process of setting a New Year’s resolution and, instead, treat ourselves with self-compassion.
Replace Traditional New Year’s Resolutions With Self-Compassion
As a meditation teacher, I’m a bit biased, but I love self-compassion. It has been my steadfast companion through many difficult years. I was diagnosed with depression at 25. Since then, I have added several more diagnoses and disorders to my mental health report card. Besides a good therapist, a support network, and medication, meditation has been one of the most powerful healers in my life. In particular, self-compassion meditation.
I’m an Enneagram 8, which means all I want to do is solve every problem I encounter. And most of the time, I’m a great problem-solver. That mindset has served me well. And that is how I approached my mental health for years – “I’m going to fix this and win!” That didn’t go too well. It’s probably why I ended up on FMLA in 2015 and went to a three-month outpatient therapy program. During my time at this outpatient program, I sat through hours of group therapy every week, and I learned a vital skill — how to listen and not solve other people’s problems.
I learned to sit with them because I couldn’t solve their problems, but I could offer a beautiful, free gift — compassion.
Compassion is sitting with someone (literally or through communication) and saying, “Thank you for telling me that. I love you, you are special, and this sounds so hard. I’m here for you.” That’s it. Simple right? Seems too easy.
The hard part is turning that compassion inward.
It’s easy to say all humans are valuable but far less easy to say, “I’m valuable, and I deserve compassion.” But you do sweet friend, you do.
Self-compassion is the act of showing yourself love, regardless of your actions or whether you think you deserve it. The truth is, you do deserve self-compassion, even if you have hurt yourself or others. And studies show that self-compassion can help ease self-criticism.
So, I propose we ditch New Year’s resolutions and try self-compassion.
Not sure how to get started? Here is a lovely video that explains self-compassion. And you can visit the Queen of Self-Compassion herself, Dr. Kristin Neff, for several easy, free self-compassion practices you could do anywhere.
Deciding Letting Go Of Resolutions For Good — Our Good
Of course, I understand that not New Year’s resolutions are all bad. Maybe they help you. But if they don’t and cause you to feel less than others or invoke a self-critical voice in your head that promotes shame-based words of woe, let this antiquated tradition go and show yourself some compassion instead.
And, it’s important not to replace your New Year’s resolutions with a self-care resolution that may also eventually lead to feeling inadequate if not met.
Just practice self-compassion when you want to, and if you don’t, then let it go.