Stop Making New Year's Resolutions. Do This Instead.

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“What's your resolution for this year?” my best girlfriend asked, ready to bond over our vision for "new and improved" selves. Slightly embarrassed, I stalled and took a huge bite of my sandwich. Chewing for way too long, I thought maybe I could make it through our lunch without responding. But, she asked me again. Seeing no way out, I answered her.

“Well,” I began, “I actually don’t make resolutions.”

She looked confused. I knew my response had disappointed her, but that was nothing compared to the disappointment I felt when I rang in the new year with a new resolution. So, with our chance to connect totally ruined, I explained why my New Year's resolution is not to make New Year's resolutions.

It was the same thing every holiday season: Eager to start off the year in the best way possible, I’d think long and hard about what would make me a better person. I’d pick through my personal and professional failures, and even though this harsh self-review didn’t feel all that uplifting, I told myself it was a necessary step in moving forward. When I felt I’d found the obstacles that kept me from reaching my “full potential,” I set about fixing them.

With paint pens and colored markers ready, I’d write out my new list of yearly goals. Excited about unlocking this new potential, I’d stick the list on my bulletin board and march straight into the new year with the firm resolve to “exercise more” or “be more productive.”

With my color-coded list to guide me, I leapt into the new year like my kid plunges into a plastic ball pit. In the beginning, it was great! I could feel my new and improved self rise to the surface. My resolutions held fast as I became more productive by vacuuming before the dogs shed and making my kid’s lunch the night before school. I was committed to maintaining this best version of me, but then this weird thing happened — keeping up with this new and improved me was… hard.

I’d start to lose steam about a month later because it was difficult to make these new habits stick. When I skipped a workout in favor of family time or a nap or I needed to take a rest from “being more productive,” feelings of guilt overtook me. My inner monologue turned dark and brooding and I scolded myself for not being able to maintain this new New Year’s me. How could I be a better person if I couldn’t make the better choices? Staring at my color-coded list, I know I heard it laugh maniacally. It mocked me — a reminder of all I couldn’t stay consistent in accomplishing. Eventually, in a fit of frustration and shame, I’d take it down, throw it in the trash, and promise to do better the next year.

This pattern continued, until one year I decided it wasn’t worth the negative emotional roller coaster I kept riding. I needed a new and inspiring New Year’s ritual. After some thought that didn’t require a deep dive into all of my failings, I created a new tradition that supports me in a positive way. Now, I set intentions.

That’s why when my best girlfriend stared blankly at me as I explained why I hadn’t made my resolution, I added, “…but I have set my intention for this year.” She asked me what it was and I replied, “I’m going to focus on finding ways to stay grounded.” Then, I explained I wanted to foster more kindness in my household and within myself — staying grounded would help with that. Along the way, I’d discover activities (and even different mindsets) that supported this intention — and it could change depending on the month, day, or hour.

New Year’s intentions are a way for me to choose an emotionally based theme to focus on for the year instead of trying to achieve a rigid and immovable goal. The act of making resolutions left no room for me to be fluid in my desires as life progressed. That’s when the self critic would take over. I’ve discovered intention-setting allows me the space to fail and then redirect. That has made all the difference. So, what’s my New Year's resolution this year? Yup, it’s to not make any New Year's resolutions — and I’m pretty resolved in that.

Tags: Friends, kindness, new year, Next Step, Self Care

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Tonilyn Hornung

Tonilyn is an author and freelance writer who lives with her husband, young son, many furry friends, and never enough closet space. See Full Bio

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