Friday, December 8, 2023

Time To Ditch New Year’s Resolutions? What You Can Do Instead

New Year’s resolutions don’t tend to work, so are there any other viable options? And what is your ‘ikigai’?

I think I was born slightly contrarian, though nowhere near as much as my father.

If I tell myself I need to do something, it sometimes makes me feel contrary and more likely to do the opposite. For instance, I felt I needed to lose weight before my brother’s wedding in order to fit a certain dress. But I sort of rebelled against my directive and actually ended up gaining weight.

“New Year’s resolutions make me want to do whatever I’ve decided not to”.

My contrariness plays into my futile attempt to fulfil New Year’s resolutions. For starters, January 1 is a terrible time to start – you’re tired, possibly hungover, and, if you’re me, still eating leftovers. So I put them off til mid-January. However should I resolve to, for instance, eat less sugar, this might make me more likely to march into a dairy and defiantly grab a Bounty bar. Hmm, following this thought process logically, might resolving to eat more sugar actually help me eat less of it?

Jokes aside, I’ve wondered if I’m slightly strange in this contrarian rebellion against my New Year’s resolutions. Turns out I’m not. “Yes, this is me. Self-sabotage at every opportunity!” one woman tells me. Another woman says: “New Year’s resolutions make me want to do whatever I’ve decided not to”.

It seems we don’t like being told, even by ourselves, what to do. If I resolve to not look at my phone in the evenings, I’ll want to do so. If I resolve to meditate daily, I just… won’t. An American study found that 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by the beginning of February. So, for 2023, my New Year’s resolution is… to make no New Year’s resolutions.

The Covid factor

As Covid hangs around, and we’re getting it or worrying about getting it a second time, we might decide that New Year’s resolutions aren’t for us at this time. Mercey Livingston has written an article called explained ‘Why you shouldn’t make a New Year’s resolution, according to a psychologist’ at, which interviews Dr Sophie Lazarus. 

“According to Dr Lazarus,” Mercey writes, “after a difficult year, the last thing we need to do is put more pressure on ourselves or set a goal that might not be realistic during a global pandemic.”

Dr Lazarus says: “What we don’t want to do is set a really large sweeping kind of goal and resolution and not meet it and feel more stressed and discouraged. We sometimes think it’s [making NY resolutions] going to help us get more done or be more productive or make this change we really want to make and I think it really tends to just increase our stress and make things worse.”

Alternatives To New Year’s Resolutions

Having done some reading around the psychology of this, I’ve decided to make my approach “am I meeting my values and needs when I do X?” and also not to berate myself if I don’t manage this. It’s a guiding principle, not a rule.

Something helping me do this is The Kiwi Diary, a 14-year-old passion project of Freda Wells, a Wellington communications specialist and yoga teacher. Not just a calendar with spaces to fill, it has contributions from New Zealand creatives, with photos, quotes, art, articles, even recipes. It’s beautifully designed to keep you inspired, organised and informed about ideas or actions that benefit you, other people and the planet. It’s motivating, without putting on too much pressure, much like listening to Eye Of The Tiger can get me out of bed and into my day.

The Kiwi Diary helps you find your ‘ikigai’, roughly translated as ‘your why’ or your ‘sweet spot’. To find this, you draw four circles that overlap and ask yourself “What do I love? What does the world need? What am I good at? What can I be paid for?” Where the circles overlap is where you work out your passion, mission, profession and vocation – and that informs your ‘ikigai’. Calling it to mind can help you make good decisions for yourself.

Letting Go Of Resolutions

Belgian-American psychotherapist Esther Perel has written a blog post about New Year resolutions. “Personally, I have not made a resolution in years,” she writes. “The minute I set a goal of restriction, I trespass it. I hate rules, and more so the ones I impose on myself.”

“Ambivalence is a very interesting piece of the human psyche,” she adds. “I want and I don’t want. I want but I don’t believe I can. I want but I would feel guilty if I did. We’re always playing this game with ourselves, but it intensifies around the new year. Our resolutions reflect this juxtaposition of self-criticism and self-optimisation. The simple statement that we will change makes us think that the parts of us we struggle with will disappear. We fantasise about that other person, the person we could be.”

The new year is a good time to be forward-thinking about who you want to be, but it’s also a great time to look back at what you’re ready to let go of: the wrong partner or job; the narratives we use to justify our setbacks; the versions of ourselves – past, present, future – that no longer make sense.” 

‘What am ready to let go of’, I hear Esther ask me in my head. Hmmmm. Am I ready to let go of the way my weight affects my self-esteem? Am I ready to let go of feeling bad about not being on top of grocery shopping, meal planning and the laundry? Am I ready to let go of my illogical mum guilt when, on busy work weeks, I need my son to go to after-school care? It’s just hit me that it boils down to this: am I ready to let go of the idea that ‘I’m not good enough’ as I am? Esther, thank you.

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