New year new you? Advice on new year's resolutions and how to make them work.

‘Should I Make New Year Resolutions?’

You really don’t have to make New Year’s Resolutions, but here’s some advice about how to make them work if you do.

CN – contains reference to the things that people say around weight loss around this time of year.

You don’t have to make changes

There’s a lot of hype about New Year’s Resolutions but that doesn’t mean you have to do them. Instead of thinking ‘this is s**t, I’m going to change it’ maybe think about what is good for you right now – what do you enjoy about yourself and those around you? Maybe your New Year’s Resolution could be to stop making resolutions and to chill and enjoy what is happening (just as like I give up ‘giving up’ for Lent).

Everything’s changing anyway

We grow and learn and stretch and change all the time. Our brains and personality and what we think are constantly changing. Even now, as you’re reading this, and now …. and now ……. and now. This pressure about what we’re going to do in the future distracts us from it. Think about this for yourself, how have you changed over the last year? Made new mates? Learnt something new (either about yourself, people around you). What events have happened, how have you responded?

Pressure to change

There’s a lot of pressure to change ourselves and our bodies. Lose weight, get a six pack, extend your penis, drop a dress size, increase a dress size, be better at sex, get laid more, find ‘the one’ etc. There are a lot of companies trying to sell you ideas of what we should look and be like – particularly at this time of year. So if you want to make changes think about why and who you’re doing this for. If you’re making change because you feel like you ‘should’ that might mean it’s a bad idea.

Read: How to feel better about your body and also try the body module of my Teach Yourself Sex Ed course.

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Pick useful goals

People make goals like these all the time.

“I’m going to stop drinking for a month.”

“I’m going to lose a stone by Valentines Day.”

“I’m going to get a six pack by summer.”

“I’m going to get married this year.”

Some people make them, are determined and stick to them. Yay for them. However a lot of us find it really difficult to stick to them. Even if we do get them we may not keep it up. This is because they are goals that measure your outcome, not the process. So it’s all about whether you win or lose rather than learning what works for you along the journey.

If we pick goals that are about growth and little change we are more likely to enjoy them. We’re also more able to do them because we can easily see the process we are doing every day. Here are some examples. (I’m not saying that you should do any of these things below, I’m just giving examples, you do you)

“I’m going to try to really enjoy eating what I eat and notice if I eat more than I really need to.”

“Rather than just drinking for the sake of it, I’m going to think about how much I’m enjoying it at the moment.”

“I’m going to try and find a form of exercise that I enjoy and do that more.”

“I’m going to try and meet more people, and get involved in things.”

Notice the difference? They’re not all or nothing. They give you room to try out different strategies and tactics. You don’t have to do things one way, you can be creative about how you get there. They’re about being in the present and learning about yourself. They build your capacity to learn.

These kinds of resolutions recognise that you are changing all the time anyway and that small changes can make big differences. Rather than goals to hit, they are tools you can use to help you.

A good rule of thumb is, if your resolution doesn’t help you when you have a set back, but instead makes you feel bad about yourself, it’s not a good resolution. This means they are more likely to help build your confidence. They also take you out of the “I’m a success/ I’m a failure” trap.

The success/failure trap

We all have setbacks. How we respond to them is down to what we think about ourselves. Some people are like:

“bah, I’m not going to bother with this anymore. I just can’t do this. It’s too much effort and it should come naturally to me. I’m rubbish at this.”

Other people are more like:

“well I didn’t manage it this time but if I keep at it and try something new I might be better at it next time.”

We’re probably all a bit of both, but it’s probably more helpful to aim to be a bit more like the last one rather than the first one.

An approach to life where you are less about the ‘success/failure’ thing and more about the ‘gradual learning and growing’ thing is ironically more likely to make you succeed. Bit like the advice I give about trying to orgasm – you’re better off focusing on enjoying sex rather than setting the goal of having an orgasm (which in turn is more likely to bring orgasms). So think less about the goal and more about getting there.

The goals you set for yourself can help with this. If you pick goals that are all about success or failure then not succeeding might feel like a massive setback. > You forget about what you wanted to achieve. > You beat yourself up about not being able to meet your goal. > You feel crap about yourself. This is why a lot of New Year’s Resolutions get dropped and why they can make us feel even worse about ourselves than we did on 31st December.

Conclusion

So if you are going to make some resolutions think about where you are and what you’ve achieved so far. Think about the pressure to ‘improve’ and where that comes from. Remind yourself about who the change is for, you or someone/thing else? Think carefully about what you want and give yourself helpful tools, not goals. Accept that you will have setbacks and make sure the tools are helpful. Be kind to yourself, keep at it and try a new strategy.

For more reading on this check this by Meg-John Barker and this by Gary Wood also check out the work of Dr Carol Dweck and her excellent book ‘Mindsets’ or this paper (pdf) for some fascinating (but I found quite hard going) reading on performance and learning goals.

More things you might wanna read at Bish

Success/Failure – why both success and failure isn’t a helpful way to view your life

How to Do Self Care – if you’re feeling crap about yourself maybe instead of making resolutions you could just be nice to you?

How to Love Yourself

How You Feel About You – more on how you might change how you feel about yourself

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© Justin Hancock, 2022

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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.

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