The New Year's Paradox: Is Your Plan to be Happier Making You Unhappy?

Does this sound familiar?

When the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve, some people kiss, some cheer, but most make New Years Resolutions. Every year, we all swear to make a change that’s supposed to make our lives better. Somehow, though, by February 1st, most of us end up commiserating about how we’ve given up. Often, we don’t give up because it’s too hard. We don’t give up because it’s too time-consuming. We don’t give up because we’re not good enough.

We give up because our goal is making us miserable.

The moment the cons of a New Years Resolution outweigh the pros, there is no point in continuing. The resolution should make you life better. If it’s not, then why would you change for it? The obvious answer is…you wouldn’t. You have the right and responsibility to cut the thing that is making you miserable out of your life.

Does that mean you should just give up? No, it means you change your approach.

The problem with a New Years Resolution is that we usually get sucked into an obsessive vortex with the idea of “a fresh start.” We swirl inside the paradox of critiquing ourselves instead of embracing the past and accepting that we have to start from the place in which we stand today. Our desire to give a hundred and ten percent when we are in capable of having that extra ten percent is constantly undermining us. As a result, you end up feeling like a failure even though you shouldn’t. No one is forcing you to achieve a standard or particular objective except yourself, so wouldn’t it be logical to set a standard that allows you to enjoy yourself?

And I mean truly enjoy yourself. I don’t mean calling it a cheat day, a hall pass, an indulgence or a mistake. Just take it and know you can have an enjoyable moment without being weak or ruining your long-term goals. If we take a little time to enjoy something, rather than ‘earning it,’ we will be less likely to quit our resolutions. In other words, if you want to stick with your resolution, you have to mess up. You have to be a little selfish and refuse to feel guilty about it.


Five Things to Remember to Keep Your Resolution the Right Way:

1. Plan on spoiling yourself.

You can have your cake and eat it too.

 Like many women, my Mom swears every year that she is going to lose some weight. Overall she has embraced a healthier and more active lifestyle, but she doesn’t let it prevent her from appreciating a slice of pizza or spinach cheese dip. This willingness to take our eyes off the prize is necessary to make it to the finish line because no one can stick to a regimen twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and feel satisfied.

I don’t remember what my Mom was snacking on, and it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I broke one of the most basic rules: never criticize what another woman is eating.

While I was trying to be helpful by pointing out a healthier choice, I can see now how judgmental I was. My mother’s response was gold: “It doesn’t matter if I’m ‘on a diet,’ that shouldn’t ruin my ability to enjoy myself.” In other words, your goals should not be the center of your existence. That’s where your wellbeing belongs.

2. Constantly pointing out what is wrong with you or your life will get you nowhere.

Circling every mistake in red pen like I did to my mother is a recipe for giving up. When you cut cold turkey, you have habits to break. Trade your tendency to notice every thing in your life that needs “fixing” for a perspective that celebrates when you step in the right direction. You’ll begin to see yourself as someone who’s learning rather than as someone who fails to meet expectations.

3. Always wanting to be better will hurt you in the long run. 

Goals tend to involve checkpoints. Reaching a checkpoint marks the progress we’ve made. Theoretically, this should be helpful. However, in my experience when I reach a checkpoint I’m frustrated that I haven’t finished, haven’t moved faster, or just haven’t reached the next step. The desire to be better than we currently are can propel us forward, but it can also remind us that we aren’t better yet. It’s a constant reminder of what we aren’t, which is why we need to stop wanting to better. “Better” tells us that we are “worse.” “Better” tells us that we are disappointments and we are failing to do what is expected of us.

We need to stop being obsessed with being “better” and start owning what makes us good. Wanting to improve and reach the next checkpoint in your process of growing or improving is healthy, but wanting to just plain “be better” will hold you back.

4. The people around you might be holding you back. 

When I tried to help my mom achieve her goal, I held her back. Instead of celebrating her achievements, I tried to focus on shortcomings and imperfections. The people around us aren’t responsible for holding us accountable. When they try to be, we have to be willing to tell them that you don’t need their input, especially if it’s critical. Even if they’re being self-deprecating, it will rub off on you. A circle-jerk of disappointment does nothing but make you feel helpless. Surround yourself with people who celebrate their victories and will do the same for you.

5. You can take charge and let go at the same time.

Human beings just function better when we have balance. We work best in moderation. Just don’t be too strict about embracing the lifestyle you are using to cultivate this balance. The New Year should be a time of liberation. Let yourself free from strict ideas of who you should become, what you should do, how you should feel and where the year should take you. No matter what your resolution is, don’t forget what Mom said: enjoy your metaphorical or not-so-metaphorical spinach cheese dip.


Image Credit: We Heart It, Guardians of the Food on Tumblr