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New Year’s Resolutions: Helpful or Harmful to your Mental Health?

Natalia DeSouza, LPC

For some people, the period between December and January is accompanied by reflections on what areas of their lives could benefit from changes. This is usually followed by the setting of goals meant to improve their quality of life and self-view. Common goals and resolutions for the new year include losing weight, perfecting a skill or a hobby, performing “better” at work, becoming more motivated, quitting smoking/drinking…the list goes on. 

Although it is extremely important for people to reflect on their habits and well-being, it is equally as important to approach resolutions with a great deal of self-compassion. The problematic part about setting new year’s resolutions is the added pressure, stress, and shame that often come along with these well-intentioned goals. In a study published by the Journal of Clinical Psychology, it was reported that after one month into the new year, 36% of people had given up working towards their resolutions, which increased to 54% at the 6-month mark. 

While resolutions may be tough to stick with and can be problematic, is there a sweet spot between positive changes and unhelpful self-expectations?

Woman journaling in white shirt on black and white striped couchReflection, reflection, reflection

It all starts with an honest reflection about why this resolution is important to you. It could be helpful to ask yourself questions, such as:

  • Why do you want this?
  • What has made working towards this goal difficult in the past?
  • What are my feelings/thoughts/beliefs about this behavior I want to change?
  • What would I have to give up/implement?
  • What need is this unwanted behavior currently meeting?
  • How will working towards this goal affect me and/or my loved ones?

Small & attainable

If you are like most people, it would be impossible to go from sitting in your office chair for 8+ hours a day, to running a marathon in a month. The saying “slow and steady wins the race” also applies to any behavior you are trying to implement or stop. It is important to be respectful and mindful of our capabilities and time frames. Take a good look at your resolution, is it too challenging, too broad, are there too many? Try to be gentle with yourself and start slow. By doing so, you will avoid adding unnecessary pressure on yourself, which can lead to lower levels of anxiety and stress. 

Reframe “failure”

New year’s resolutions are harmful to our mental health when we equate slip-ups to a personal failure, a lack of discipline, focus, or commitment. In other words, “I couldn’t keep this up, there must be something wrong with me, why even bother?”. Try viewing this as a thinking trap and remind yourself that not every thought we have is true or helpful. Instead, tell yourself slip-ups and derails will happen, expect them to happen! Sometimes, it’s a great opportunity to re-assess your goal and to make some changes to the way you have been approaching it. Most of the time, it is simply a chance to practice self-compassion by permitting yourself to slip, while reminding yourself slips are a part of the process. When you reframe failure as a chance to practice self-compassion, to learn more about yourself, you may feel more empowered as opposed to defeated and ashamed. 

Regardless of what your goal, resolution, or intention might be, the simple fact that you have made it here in one piece is a win! Remember that sometimes being a human in this world is difficult, any level of self-improvement we try to work towards is a bonus. Be gentle as we embark on this new year. 


Norcross, J. C., Mrykalo, M. S., & Blagys, M. D. (2002). Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of clinical psychology58(4), 397–405.

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