A New Year Without Resolutions

This year I decided I won’t be making any New Year’s resolutions. Every December 31st I set some version of the same goals for myself with renewed enthusiasm, truly believing that in the upcoming year I will finally reach my goal, but every year I fail before January is even over. This year, the enthusiasm that usually motivates me to become a better version of myself is sorely lacking. The thought of putting any more effort into self-improvement only to inevitably fail, makes me feel exhausted before I even start. In 2021, I would rather direct that time and energy toward things I know will make me feel good right now.

Some of you may be thinking that I’m just jaded, that my perspective is colored by my resolution failures of the past. You may even be one of the steadfast few who have managed to complete a resolution in previous years. You may be thinking, of course there is anecdotal evidence that shows some people’s inability to reach their goals for the new year. Well, don’t just take my word for it — there have actually been studies published on the very topic of New Year’s resolutions, and the results are worse than even I expected. One study from the late 80’s examined 200 people and their personal goals for the upcoming year to see how many of them would rise to the challenge. The researchers at Scranton University found that 77% of participants managed to keep their resolutions alive for a whole week, but more than half of them slipped at least once. Only 19% were able to keep that resolution alive over two years. The day-to-day lives of most people have changed dramatically since 1989, and I would venture a guess that if that study was to be repeated today, the success rate would drop even lower.

2020 has been a year fraught with disappointment in the best of situations, and traumatic in the worst. We were inundated by a global pandemic, toxic politics, massive job loss, a staggering amount of death, and even murder hornets. If most resolutions are broken before January is over during years where the news wasn’t dominated by words like “unprecedented,” “record-breaking,” and “tragic,” why not save ourselves the disappointment? I refuse to set myself up to let myself let down so soon into 2021. My post-2020 psyche is far too fragile to be able to sustain that kind of blow.

The thought of more self-improvement also makes me die a little inside. I won’t be making any of my usual resolutions to lose weight and stop biting my cuticles because the truth is, I need my vices to get by. No matter how hard I try, I keep finding myself gnawing away at my cuticles whenever I watch or read the news. And if I would rather snuggle on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s to watch a marathon of The Crown, than go for a bike ride or a run, you’d better believe that in 2021 the ice cream wins every time. And right now, I need that to be OK. When every day is filled with decisions between the lesser of two evils, pushing myself to do too many things I don’t want to do makes me dread getting out of bed every morning, and who wants to live like that?

2020 forced a lot of change on me in one year, and with that change came a lot of self-reflection, self-improvement, and therapy. I learned that there will be times when I have even less control over my life than I’m used to. I learned that sometimes my old coping mechanisms won’t be available to me and I’ll need to find new ones. I learned how to accept the sadness and discomfort of not knowing when the sadness and discomfort will end. I learned that I really enjoy hugs, and that my need to have other people in my life is stronger than my social anxiety. I also became a parent this year, which is a difficult adjustment under normal circumstances. And from that experience I’ve learned that my love for my daughter and my desire for her to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted, is stronger than my fear of just about anything else.

In a year where so many of us were forced to adapt to living in a world with an invisible killer virus, haven’t we changed enough already? While there are plenty of people who we may feel others did not adapt in an adequate or appropriate way in the past year, even those people were forced to give up or change something about their lives in 2020. Changing for the worse is still changing. It would be impossible for someone to have lived through the last year and come out the other side completely unchanged. A change as small as a shift in perspective or priorities, is still something. And with another year filled with more hard times and forced change ahead, why not just take a year off from self-inflicted change?

What if, as a society, we decided not to put ourselves through the disappointment that comes with setting and inevitably failing our New Year’s Resolutions? What if we accepted ourselves as “good enough” for now? Haven’t we, collectively, been through enough in the last year? My 2021 will be a year of acceptance and repair. It will be another year chock full of no-win decision-making and new tests to work through. I will still need to assuage my desire for control, and manage my yearning to plan a trip somewhere to get me through dark times. I will still need to try and hold back tears as our little family celebrates my daughter’s 1st birthday without anyone else in attendance, mourning the fact that our friends and family missed the whole 1st year of her life. That feels like enough challenges to me. So if the idea of inevitable disappointment and self-improvement make you want to die inside, join me in this refusal to make any New Year’s resolutions in 2021.



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Molly Coyle Shibley

Molly Coyle Shibley

American living in Ireland. New mom. Mental health advocate. Also writes for The Mighty and Molly Does Adulting. Just trying to get my sh*t together.