Could Your New Year’s Resolutions Actually Be Harmful to Your Health?

By Katie S. Frauenfelder, MA, PLPC, NASM CPT

It’s that time of year again. The time where once the clock strikes midnight on January 1st we bid adieu to the previous year and all of its shortcomings, and welcome the new year with open arms.

The new year is synonymous with a fresh start, one that we are only given once every 365 days, so we best take advantage. Most of us have become a bit redundant with our resolutions over the years, and although we are logically aware that our track record of sticking with them is less than stellar, this year we delusionally believe will be different. This is the year we will follow through with our pledge to hit the gym more, eat healthier, spend less money, and thanks in part to the new Netflix show “Tidy Up,” will become more organized. 

But there’s a good chance making these resolutions could do more harm than good. Many of the goals we set for ourselves are unreasonable, and when we fail to meet them our self-worth plummets, and our anxiety skyrockets. This is why it is so important we remain true to ourselves and refrain from this repeated trap that can prevent us from reaching our full potential. The following are reasons why making New Year’s resolutions can be toxic to your health:

They are rooted in negativity

Many of us put so much focus on how we are “flawed”, and the things we would like to change about ourselves. Doing so can bring about emotions associated with shame and can actually set us back rather than motivate us. For example, making a resolution to “cut out sugar” is just as self deprecating as it is unrealistic. Instead, reframe this goal to “eat more vegetables.” This shift not only makes your resolution more optimistic, but can help you stay motivated.

They are too definitive

People make the mistake of declaring absolute statements, leaving little room for error. This can lead to polarized or black and white thinking. In polarized thinking, things are either black or white — all or nothing. We have to be perfect or we are a complete and utter failure — there is no middle ground. A popular resolution is to hit the gym a certain amount of times per week. While this can absolutely be a positive and healthy goal, it will only be effective if you give yourself some grace. For example, many people set a rigid, often arbitrary number of times they must exercise per week. While they may be able to follow this schedule for a while, inevitably life circumstances arise that can disrupt your plans. This is when that polarized thinking can creep in causing you to think “Well, if I can only work out once this week instead of three times, why even bother?” Instead, promise yourself to fit exercise into your life, but eliminate the rigidity surrounding it.

They ignore the process and only focus on the outcome

In our fast paced society, many of us desire instant gratification. If we do not immediately achieve the results we are so desperately seeking, we are tempted to throw in the towel. But what if we try to adjust our mindset, and instead of focusing so much on the result we turn our attention to the process? By focusing on the process, it helps eliminate distractions. It is important to identify what is significant, and what is wasting your time. This allows for the proper steps to be made toward advancing to your goals. Focusing on the process gives you the ability to engage more deeply with the present, and will allow yourself to experience it more fully. In addition, an outlook focusing on results is mainly an outlook focused on external factors. Doing so gives up much of the control you could have.

An internal focus of control leads to higher self-esteem, builds confidence, and is empowering. Finally, once you take the time to really put in the work, focusing on each step at a time, you will appreciate the results so much more. Results earned by taking shortcuts are often taken for granted. Instead, being able to handle failures and setbacks allows us to relish in our success once it finally presents itself.

Katie is leading two new groups at The Center for Mindfulness & CBT for teens and young adults. Healthy Coping Skills for Stress, Relationships, and Life and Establish Balance and Freedom from Disordered Eating both start January 31st and are enrolling now.

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