The Value (And Traps) Of Resolution Setting

The New Year is a popular time to set out on making major life changes. Many of us resolve to work out consistently, change jobs, or quit alcohol. But New Year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to fulfill, and the pressure surrounding them can sometimes do us more harm than good. As 2021 approaches, keep these insights in mind as we navigate another season of planning for the year ahead. 

Where Resolutions Fall Short 

Resolutions are hard to keep, but why? Here are some of the common traps we fall into when we make big resolutions: 

Start And End Dates Confine Us

Significant lifestyle changes often happen gradually, and are complete with many ups and downs. Resolutions, however, force a strict timeline on behaviors that are more productive when they’re ongoing and dynamic. Changing your relationship with alcohol, for example, might mean something different to you over time. Working toward sobriety is more than a start date on a calendar: it’s a continuous act of self-love. 

Perfection Stunts Progress 

Resolutions can impose an unnecessary amount of pressure on an already challenging goal. The high bar we set for ourselves can cause feelings of shame and guilt in the moments we can’t quite meet it. I often see patients make strict resolutions, and when they slip up, they abandon the essence of the goal altogether. We are only human, and can still make long-lasting lifestyle changes without a 100% success rate. 

Unrealistic Expectations Discourage Us

Another trap that eager resolution-makers can fall into is setting resolutions that are unsustainable or exceptionally hard to accomplish. Going to the gym every single day may last for a couple of weeks, but once burnout sets in, we’re discouraged from ever returning. Goals are completely possible to achieve when we go into them with a thoughtful and attainable plan, even if it means ramping up or taking baby steps. 

So if our resolutions consistently make us feel less-than, why are we drawn to them year after year? Because we want to continue to grow and evolve, and that’s an admirable aspiration. However it’s the idea behind resolutions, one of self-improvement and self-care, that’s worth holding onto. We should honor our desire to be our best selves. Instead of making unattainable resolutions, setting intentional and manageable goals is how we’ll get there. 


How Goal-Setting Enables Change 

While New Year’s resolutions can leave us feeling unaccomplished, goal setting can pick up the slack. Realistic goals help us work on our behavior and become the best version of ourselves. Writing our goals down is a highly effective way to identify what we want to change. Goal-setting can also encourage us to look back at the past, and honestly reflect with ourselves. The key is to not let pressure and unrealistic expectations cloud our goal-setting. Here are my tips for setting goals that set us up for success in the new year, and beyond. 

Don’t Skimp on Self-Compassion

Changing our drinking habits, or workout routine, or profession, can be really challenging. If it wasn’t hard, we would already be doing it! In order to succeed, we need to understand that we will make mistakes, and we need to be able to practice compassion in those moments. Try not to be too critical of yourself, especially when you fall short. Take stock of how far you’ve come, adjust your short-term goal, and move forward. Accept that it’s going to be a process, not a test you have to ace. 

Managing your drinking through quarantine

Managing your drinking can be especially challenging during times of heightened stress and isolation. Join the discussion about how to moderate your drinking or stay sober through quarantine.
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Be Intentional When Setting Your Goal 

Make sure your goal is something you believe in, and have the power to achieve. Break up your goals into the short and long term, and formulate a plan for each goal that is within your reach. It can be helpful to pursue this with a therapist, who can work with you to set intentions and create a plan. You may also feel pressure to have the same resolutions as your peers. While having support is essential, remember that everybody’s goals and values look different. Something that may be a realistic short-term goal for a friend may make more sense as a long-term goal for you, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Look At The Big Picture 

Assigning numbers to our goals is an easy way to get discouraged. Keep your goals flexible and cultivate a broad understanding of what you want to achieve in the coming year and beyond. To have a healthier relationship with alcohol is an overarching, achievable goal that leaves room for adjustment. As opposed to a list of resolutions, consider opting for a vision board, collection of mantras, or other visual reminders. These tools will help steer you toward your aspirations as you navigate all the unpredictability a year can bring. 

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Use All Of The Tools Available 

Whatever your personal goals may be, you’re more likely to achieve them with support. There are others who want you to succeed, have similar ambitions, and can help you on your path. At Monument, you are not alone in your goal to change your drinking. I encourage you to get and give support at one of our online therapist-moderated alcohol support groups. You can join with your camera on or off, and you’ll never be called on to speak. Explore how holistic treatment can help you make a change, including medication to stop drinking, and online alcohol therapy personalized to your needs and goals. You have tools in your toolkit, and you should use them. We’re here for you.   

After all of the additional uncertainty, stress, and pain this year has brought, maybe you decide to take resolutions off the table entirely, and that’s perfectly okay. The New Year can often feel like a fresh start: but you always have the power to decide to make a change. Goal-setting, big and small, is an empowering way to transform your life. When we nurture ourselves as we work on our goals, it’s amazing just how much we are capable of. 

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Avatar photoHolli is a licensed mental health counselor/licensed professional counselor in the state of NY and NJ with over 14 years of experience working in the field. She is passionate about helping others achieve their goals, and creating a safe place for that to be done. Her therapeutic approach is unique to you and your needs, often utilizing a mixture of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness and acceptance.