Why New Year’s resolutions can be a bad idea


By John Lough

Special to The PREVIEW

While wanting to see positive changes in your life isn’t a bad idea, the way most New Year’s resolutions come together is usually complicated, often helps little and may even be harmful.

Most of us are pretty bad at setting reasonable goals for ourselves. We usually think in terms of absolutes: “I’m going to lose 20 pounds next month.” “I’m going to stop smoking now.” “I’m going to get that job promotion this quarter.”

There are a several problems with resolutions like these, the main one being that they seldom achieve success. Such resolutions are based on negative emotions, things about yourself with which you aren’t satisfied or happy. These may seem motivating at first, but they actually can create feelings of anxiety and decreased self-worth. This focus on negative feelings seldom provides long-term motivation.

Another problem with those “absolute” resolutions is that they set you up for failure. They start based on issues you don’t like about yourself and then present a good opportunity for you to fail, thus helping to lower your self-esteem even more. And no, you don’t make a resolution planning not to achieve it, but the reality is that most of us don’t reach our ambitious goals. One study even named Jan. 12 as “Quitter’s Day,” the point when large numbers of people begin to falter in working toward their New Year’s goals.

A major problem with most New Year’s resolutions is that they focus on the goal and not on the process. If weight loss, traditionally this nation’s No. 1 resolution, is the goal, it’s easy to become discouraged and depressed if you see little change on the bathroom scale or if you make some progress but then backslide a bit.

Rather then focusing on the final goal, experts advise paying more attention to the small steps, the process, that will take you to that goal. In many cases, they advise to not even set a final goal. If weight loss, for example, is what you want to achieve, instead of imagining how many pounds have to disappear, set a positive objective of “eating healthier.” It’s something you can do in small steps (i.e., no donut at work every day, but instead a handful of carrots for that mid-afternoon snack).

Setting small changes makes them easier to achieve and makes you more likely to bring about the final results that you desire.

“Counseling Corner” is provided by the American Counseling Association (ACA). Send your comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.