New Year, New Me: Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Setting Resolutions

Written by BlackbirdGo January 2, 2019
The People

Here we are again… the holidays are finally behind us. Our wallets are empty. The dumpster fire that was 2018 is glowing softly in our collective rearview, fueled by many cosmic horrors and new lows for the human condition. You're probably saying to yourself, “Wow! I'm ready and excited for new beginnings and the possibilities they bring!” (The fact that you have any optimism left in the chamber is truly admirable). Or, maybe you're like me, and you're fueled by remorse, spite, and anger—all of which, within the right confines, can craft a sense of urgency for change. We're primed with whatever motivating factors we've got in our back pockets, and we're jumping into 2019 resolutions in hand.

So, what are you going to do?

Common Resolutions

Western society at large has been participating in the tradition of resolving to change traits and behaviors for the sake of accomplishing personal goals for a while now. Initially a ritual more closely associated with the new harvest, people have been recorded vowing to return borrowed objects to gods and pay their debts since Babylonian times. A few other religious parallels have existed for a hot minute, too, like the period of self-reflection that takes place during Rosh Hashanah and High Holidays up to Yom Kippur. How successful are our modern resolutions, though? How have they developed over the course of history?

Some current common annual pledges include:

  • Losing weight/eating “healthy”/exercising more
  • Saving up money/quitting your job/starting a new job/better financial decision making
  • Going back to school
  • Learning a new language
  • Trying to be more environmentally conscious
  • Spending more time volunteering/doing more for the community/charity work
  • Spending more time with family
  • Being more spiritual
  • Breaking “bad habits”, such as spending too much time on phone/social media, smoking, drinking, nail biting, procrastination


Being human, regardless of good intention, comes with drawbacks. A lot of us are impulsive idealists, swayed by any quick breeze if the energy is high. The pragmatic aren't any better, either, stuck in their rigid ways and bad habits. Society is weaved through a lot of chaos and inconsistency. While most people enter the new year with the intention changing areas of tension in their life, there can by myriad pitfalls associated with changing habits and lifestyles. Being aware of these pitfalls is the best defense against falling into them.

Here are some of the ways in which your resolution might not be successful:

  • Lack of commitment/research/understanding body types/nutrition/exercise can contribute to relapsing. Society has perpetuated unrealistic body-type expectations, and commercialism/consumerism spreads a lot of misinformation and unhealthy products associated with losing weight. This can lead to people internalizing these unrealistic expectations and becoming frustrated with themselves or their efforts. People ditch this one pretty quickly when they aren't seeing immediate results.
  • Living in a capitalistic system makes it pretty difficult to be self-sustaining. Cost of living, food, and access to basic necessities fluctuate. Markets are unpredictable. Quitting your job/getting a new job are direct-action goals and slightly more realistic than the broad task of “saving money”, but, again, the market is unpredictable and unstable. It is best to break financial goals down into smaller, more attainable goals. If your goals is to find a new job, your first steps would be to identify what you would like to do, followed by an assessment of the opportunities in your area, your current financial situation, etc. Breaking broader goals into smaller ones makes them seem less daunting and folks are more likely to pursue goals they believe they can achieve.
  • Higher education in the U.S. can be financially crippling. If you're fortunate enough to not be saddled with massive debt your whole life, kudos. As it stands, though, this is a huge financial pit (depending on what you're trying to achieve, some degrees are cheaper than others). Time consumption is also a major factor. Most schools do not offer housing or assistance, and adults, with or without dependents, are working one or multiple jobs to make ends meet. Being able to find the time to attend and understanding the extension of time to finish are a struggle. If one of your goals is to pursue higher education in the new year, take the time to do thorough research on all of the opportunities available to you. Are there online courses you could take? Does your employer offer reimbursement for tuition? Non-traditional pathways to education are typically more accessible.
  • Learning a new language for free comes with some limited resources and time constraints. It requires a lot of practice. There are several apps and courses available online for learning new languages. Additionally, if you live in a larger city, there may be social groups that meet to practice new languages. Languages are much easier to learn with you’re around other people.
  • Lack of understanding/funding for lifestyle changes/time commitment make it hard to change your environmental impact. Same with volunteering. Taking the time to research the impact of certain actions in our lives as well as organizations you may work with are important to sustaining new habits. Additionally, making small changes and steps to being more environmentally conscious will have a greater overall effect than trying (and failing) to go completely waste free, for example.
  • Spending time with your family requires more spare time, that you may feel like you don’t have. If your family is anything like mine, they're awful, and the second they jump down your throat, you're out. In short, it can require a lot of trial and error. Setting boundaries for yourself with your family can help to establish healthy relationships with them.
  • Being more spiritual translates to discipline and requires tools/having more time to dedicate to whatever religious belief you'd like to maintain. Many people can get frustrated by like of access or knowledge. Spirituality is deeply personal, comparing this process to anyone else or to strict interpretations of spirituality is counterproductive.
  • Breaking bad habits requires so much time and patience. Jumping in with an all-or-nothing mentality, going “cold turkey,” and relapsing are extremely common. This doesn’t mean that it’s useless, however it may mean you need to take smaller steps to get to where you need to be. If your goal is to quit smoking, for example, start by smoking one less cigarette a day. Then two less, three, etc. By breaking this daunting task into smaller ones, you are more likely to accomplish your goal.

New Year, New You

I know I just listed a ton of negative bullet points, but the want to advance your self and your society is ultimately a praiseworthy thing. It's a valuable thing, at that. We would never get anywhere if we didn't at least try. We've got to be somewhat realistic, though. Understanding ourselves, our capabilities, and what it takes to accomplish certain things while pushing past false information are super important facets that we need to take into account when we're trying to change the shape of things. You need to know yourself and the people around you, and—shit—that can be hard as hell, but it's so worth it when it comes to planning. We get so stuck in a pass-or-fail mindset, we don't allow any room for natural error and recovery and throw the whole thing out before our foundations have set. Earlier in this article, I asked how successful our modern resolutions are, and I want to make the point to you that it really doesn't matter what that percentage is. If you're going into 2019 with an idea of something you want to do, something you'd like to change, or a whole new thing you want to explore, make it tangible. Some things are hard because being alive in the space we occupy can just be flat-out awful at times, but that shouldn't stop you from trying to do the things you want to as long as you aren't hurting yourself or others. Find the baby steps to achieve your vision, and take them. And if you fail? Whatever. There's always next year.