The New Year’s Resolution Guilt Has Already Begun

New Year's Eve fireworks
Image credit: photo by Vernon Raineil Cenzon on Unsplash.

Some of us continue to set ourselves up, once again, by setting New Year’s resolutions, which we have been unsuccessful in keeping in previous years. Some of us feel so discouraged about not being able to keep our New Year’s resolutions, or our intentions, that we abandon them totally, thus making ourselves feel even worse by not setting them at all. 

The truth is all of these goals or New Year’s resolutions are important to work toward and can produce potentially life-changing patterns. Yet, they may be the same ones that we set in previous years and have had trouble incorporating into our lives.

Same Goal, Different Year

Sometimes we approach the New Year with lofty expectations that this will be the year we succeed with a huge or almost impossible goal, or multiple goals. We set goals such as, “I’m going to…”

  • Lose 30 pounds this year.
  • Exercise every single day.
  • Stop smoking, drinking, or compulsive overeating.
  • Organize all my paperwork.
  • Give up sugar and salt.
  • Only eat healthy.
  • Stop shopping compulsively.
  • Make new friends.
  • Be less negative.
  • Cultivate my spirituality.
  • Save more money.
  • Argue less with my partner.
  • Spend more time with my children.
  • Get a better job.

And we are going to achieve one or more of these goals…immediately. 

It is only the second week into the year and here at Nassau Guidance & Counseling we are already hearing about the guilt our couples and psychotherapy clients are experiencing over their goals.

Depression and anxiety around this has already begun setting in and for some a sense of hopelessness has developed. We have noticed that people are beating themselves up and are riddled with guilt because they have broken their New Year’s resolutions “already.”

So what do we do about this? 

Do we not set New Year’s resolutions for ourselves and determine goals that we want to accomplish? Is avoiding resolutions and goals the answer to not feeling depressed, anxious, guilty, or angry with ourselves? Or do we need to approach this differently? 

Perhaps if we set more realistic goals, such as focusing on losing 10 pounds instead of 30, or eating healthier as opposed to total diet restrictions, we might have a better chance at success.

Even small changes, one behavior at a time, and not focusing on everything we want to improve in our life at once, can provide us with a taste of success to help us meet our goals.

  1. Set an Intention. There tends to be an all-or-nothing approach or thought process that often accompanies setting these resolutions that many of us have, which really sets us up emotionally. I have always found that the phrase “New Year’s Resolutions” has a rigid feel to it, where instead setting an intention has a softer, gentler, more flexible feel.
  2. Reflect on Previous Year’s Goals. It’s important to reflect on previous New Year’s resolutions and notice if we have been successful or not.  Are we setting the same goals, and the same number of goals, that we have previously found challenging? This clearly is a set-up for potential failure. Don’t make setting goals similar to a punishment. 
  3. Tune-In to the Obstacles. Instead, perhaps we might find it more helpful if we tune into and identify what emotional or practical obstacles have stood in our way of meeting these resolutions in the past. If we ignore this critical piece, then we are doing the same thing over and over again. Remember what Albert Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Consider a Different Approach 

Perhaps many of us are on the wrong track. If just setting the goal didn’t work in the past, we might need to look at another path that may be a kinder and more compassionate approach to setting our goals and resolutions.

It is so important to acknowledge and honor how hard it may be to do some of the things we really want to do, and that we feel are important, instead of degrading ourselves for not being able to succeed. If we feel better about ourselves and are more self-nurturing, things we want to accomplish may feel a little less challenging. 

Set a goal that has a more self-loving or self-accepting nature, instead of a concrete goal like losing weight, exercising more, generating more money, or any of the other goals which may have been difficult to do in past years.

Consider setting an intention to be more self-loving and self-accepting. A more self-loving and self-accepting goal might be something like, “This year I’m going to work toward being less self-judging and critical,” or “This year, I’m going to work towards focusing more on my positive characteristics,” or “This year, I’m going to work towards being more comfortable in my body.”

Being less self-judgmental and more compassionate with ourselves can provide us with a different path to get to the same place—helping to achieve our goals. 

A mantra can feel more positive and empowering than a resolution. After all, you either fail or succeed with a resolution but a mantra becomes a way of life.

Amy Morin, licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist.

Take Baby Steps

If we approach the New Year with this more loving and self-caring perspective, often positive things may follow. They may come more organically or naturally from a place where we feel better about ourselves.

We may be able to more easily lose a few pounds, or feel more motivated to exercise because we are not hitting ourselves over the head with, I’ve got to, I should, If I don’t…then, or other self-threatening talk. Instead of this-all-or-nothing approach, which seldom works with any goals we are setting regardless of the time of the year, we can renegotiate with ourselves. 

We Can Ask Ourselves: 

  • What feels more possible to commit to? 
  • What goals may be more reachable?
  • Which goal is the priority?
  • Where can I be successful?

If we set smaller and more realistic goals, and start with only one or two, we can have a better chance of gaining confidence in our ability to succeed. For example, we may be able to incorporate exercise for an hour a week with less resistance. 

It is important to talk with, and surround ourselves with, people who can truly understand that sometimes reaching towards goals may be challenging, as opposed to those who may criticize and judge. We want like-minded people who will encourage us in a loving way, but not ridicule us if we are struggling. 

It’s Not Too Late to Reboot

There is nothing to say that because it is two weeks into January that it is too late to set intentions or goals. Kind of like we are rebooting a computer, we can stop and hit start and reboot.

We can start small and give ourselves credit for each small thing we accomplish. Approaching our goals with this self-caring perspective, with rewards instead of punishment, can provide us with a better chance at success.

Let Us Help

If you are feeling stressed, or guilty about an inability to meet your goals, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance & Counseling, located on Long Island, can help. 

Our licensed therapists have helped many people find methods to address emotional issues and approach goals with a more positive, self-caring approach that can assist them in enjoying their accomplishments each month of the year. 

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