On Our Minds: New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be your enemy

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 41 percent of Americans make New Years resolutions yet only 9.2 percent stick to them.
According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 41 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions yet only 9.2 percent stick to them.
Jacquie Gamelgaard

Last year they didn’t stick, the year before that they formed unhealthy habits, this year is there even a point and do they really do me any good?

If this is your internal dilemma of whether or not to make New Year’s resolutions this year don’t worry, I am right there with you.

The age-old practice may seem like a simple and productive way to start the year, but with the pressure of fitness and diet marketing campaigns and a history of failed attempts, they can feel more forced for the wrong reasons than fun and helpful.

This year I found myself questioning the ritual as well, and talked with experts on behavior change and fitness and wellness about these resolutions and if they do more harm than good. Long story short, they are not harmful or helpful, as long as you do them right.

According to Jude Walsh, a licensed clinical social worker and clinical director at Conifer Wellness Mental Health Center in Corvallis, the secret to sustainable and productive resolutions is to connect them to a value, not an outcome.

“A value is a direction, it’s not a destination,” Walsh said. “You never achieve it, you’re continuously moving in that direction and a goal is actually a measurable step that you can take that moves you in that direction.”

So for example, my value is health, my goals rooted in the value could be to move my body more or eat more vegetables than processed foods. But, even with a solid foundation, the resolution can still topple to nothing if it’s too broad or too out of reach.

When the goal is not specific enough there is a lack of translation to an actual behavior, said both Walsh and Erica Woekel, a clinical associate professor at Oregon State University, director of the Lifetime Fitness for Health Program and certified health and wellbeing coach.

Even neglecting to recognize the interconnectedness of a value like health can lead to goals that are set up for failure and shame. Woekel recommends taking into consideration the physical and mental aspects when making fitness resolutions.

“Goals about diet or exercise can be helpful and productive for people but there are some things to be mindful of like personal motivation, is it realistic, and is it healthy for you,” Woekel said. “If a person is motivated by weight or looks, this can be difficult as it can increase feelings of guilt and shame, especially if they experience failure.”

According to Forbes, which conducted a survey of 1,000 adults in October 2023, 62% said that they feel pressured to set a resolution. Also worth noting that improved fitness was the most common resolution at 48% of those surveyed, and falling fourth and fifth on the list were to lose weight and improve diet.

Given that a majority of American adults feel pressured to make a resolution, chances are the resolution attempts will be rooted in these outcome based motivations, fail, and continue the cyclical pattern of shame following the most wonderful time of the year.

So why even bother with trying to make a resolution that checks all the right boxes to be set up for success? After all, most of these boxes can be found in the infamous S.M.A.R.T. goal format, which personally I  see as tedious and restrictive at best and repetitively impersonal from course to course, which all reintroduce the topic as if it is a new discovery each time.

Walsh says that although not perfect for everyone, New Year’s resolutions give individuals the chance to assess and reflect on what’s working and what is not in one’s life.

“Even if we didn’t achieve everything we wanted to over that past period, it’s a moment in time that we can stop and we can evaluate that,” Walsh said. “It’s an opportunity for a kind of a fresh start, and, you know, again, going by that ‘values as a direction’.”

Although a set goal or resolution is not the end-all be-all to achieving improvement in your health and physical wellness, Woekel and OSU Director of Health Equity and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Student Health Services Amy Frasieur share the idea that while resolutions can be productive for some individuals, alternative practices can be more sustainable.

“I enjoy exploring connection with the body, rather than disconnection. Nourishing oneself and being curious about how to incorporate flexibility, care, joy, pleasure, rest,” Frasieur said. “As my colleagues at the Center for Body Trust say: ‘doing this for and with the body instead of to and on the body’.”

In general, Frasieur said from over 20 years in the field, practices of continuous appreciation, awareness and gratitude for the body give way to more sustainable behavior changes.

As someone who has fallen into bad fitness and diet habits myself, I have seen these continuous practices be the most helpful in realizing my resolution. But, acknowledging there will be ups and downs no matter what and that there is no one size fits all answer to the question: Are New Year’s resolutions bad for you?

OSU Student Wellness Coach Amir Stratton, who does side with the helpful resolutions viewpoint, emphasized the importance of individuality in fitness goals especially.

“When comparing (your successes) to others, you lose sight of the actual goal and begin fighting to keep up with someone who is three steps ahead of you,” Stratton said. “You have your own journey to your own goals, work at your pace and you’ll be unstoppable.”

Treat resolutions and early ambitions for the new year as an advice buffet. Take a piece from Walsh to make attainable, measurable goals, a slice from Woekel to stop and think if this practice is really healthy for you right now, a scoop from Frasieur’s consistent gratitude practice and sprinkle Stratton’s encouragement.

With that, your new year is off to a healthy and balanced start that is perfect for you and only you.

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