I broke my New Year’s resolution roughly 36 hours after I made it. To be honest, it was my fault for thinking that I could stick to a decision I made on a whim, when champagne bubbles were still floating through my mind.
Psychiatrist Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt explained that making such New Year’s resolutions (especially with the knowledge in the back of our minds that they will quickly be broken) is actually bad for our mental health, and that, instead, we should be adopting a mindset of “radical acceptance”. Essentially, we should be ditching the corny “New Year, New You” ideas that are forced on us in adverts for diet pills or Pelotons, only for us to begrudgingly buy them, use them once, and hate ourselves for not seeing instant results.
Ultimately, the more we hear that every year, come January 1st, we are obliged to completely change ourselves, the more we start to internalise the idea that we will simply never be good enough.
But what about ourselves is such a problem that we have to find a resolution?
Take the common resolution of giving up chocolate: while it is technically not the most nutritious snack option, and is related to some health issues, the drastic act of completely cutting it out of our lives only causes us to miss out on a range of antioxidants, while also no longer helping to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure levels, and even the risk of heart disease and cancer. Not to mention that the mere thought of this just causes plain distress. And yet, we convince ourselves that, if we don’t immediately swear off eating chocolate as soon as the first minute of the new year arrives, we’re complete failures, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for the rest of the year.
On average, 77% of people give up on their resolutions, with 35% of these people abandoning the idea before the end of January. When you first hear these numbers doesn’t it make you lose a little hope in humanity? It makes you think that people are careless, lazy, maybe even selfish — but the truth is far from that.
It’s simply impractical to believe that we must be making such sudden changes in this first month of the year, when the days are dark and freezing, and when one day is even specifically labelled as “Blue Monday” since, in the words of journalist Olivia Petter, it is perceived as the exact day of the year “when we’re all cold, broke and riddled with guilt that our new year’s resolutions to get fit, drink less alcohol, and be a better human being have fallen by the wayside”. This is especially poignant after the last two years that we’ve been forced to endure, full to the brim with constant fear, anxiety and depression, as a result of, well, a global pandemic. All of these emotions are then incontrovertibly worsened when shame and guilt is dumped on top of them, after we lack the strength and stability to stick to our empty promises.
However, instead of these far-fetched and impractical resolutions, we should encourage ourselves actively engage in “radical acceptance”, which means that we can start living in the moment, rather than only thinking about what we have to do to fit into those tight shorts (that I could have sworn fit perfectly only a couple months ago — what happened?) by summertime. According to psychologist and author, Marsha Linehan, “radical acceptance” is a term that refers to “when you stop fighting reality, stop responding with impulsive or destructive behaviours when things aren’t going the way you want them to, and let go of bitterness that may be keeping you trapped in a cycle of suffering”.
This practice allows us to accept that, however flawed we may think we are, our bodies are our own, to love and embrace, and, most crucially, to continue to live our lives in. It also means learning to recognise and accept our triggers and stressors, even if we have no control over them, in order to prevent any negative emotions, or reversions to unhealthy behaviours. Because of this, we are therefore able to remove any feelings that cause distress, like guilt, shame and anxiety that cause relapses and spirals, triggering endless cycles, which could potentially be even more dangerous than before.
I know that the act of suggesting “radical acceptance” in itself seems as though I’m pushing you to change the way you behave this year, but rather, unlike going from 0 to 100 on the treadmill, this is something that we can do to reassure ourselves. When we’re in the shower, or getting dressed, or after we eat, it’s the simple reminder that we are not betraying ourselves, and are instead listening to what our bodies need, actually caring in the correct ways, and not in the ways that Instagram models and body-builders are telling us.
Self-love and acceptance is not impossible. And, though certain elements of our society have convinced us that, in order to be humble and not become big-headed, we must constantly make self-deprecating comments and always keep a little spark of self-hate burning within ourselves, it is imperative that we turn away from the articles and adverts in the tabloid papers, or on day-time talk shows.
This also allows us to move past the material and superficial views on beauty and perfection, and what deserves love. We are able to question what makes us good people, and what we can do to be better, that won’t cause our muscles an unfathomable pain in the morning. These actions are not long-term, but rather happen right then in the moment: giving up a seat on the bus, chasing after someone to give back the glove they’ve dropped, leaving spare change in the donation boxes — all of these are not something that can be planned on January 1st, but just happen when you give in to that voice in the back of your head that instructs you to do the right thing, which ultimately makes your day, as well as at least one other person’s.
Essentially, I suppose, the resolution we should all strive to achieve is how to be happier, not after seeing something in the mirror, but after doing something, in the real world, that actually has an impact.
By Sarah Clif, student