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Why I Stopped Making New Year’s Resolutions

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Welcome to Vibe Check, Unbothered’s wellness column aimed at revolutionizing how Black folx think about self-care. “Self-care” is not always synonymous with Black existence. For example, in addition to navigating trauma resulting from racism, classism, sexism, anti-trans violence and more, Black women are expected — through socialization — to be caretakers, to be strong, and often to our detriment. Queer folx and the particular needs of the LGBTQ+ community are often excluded from conversations about wellness. Additionally, the wellness industry sells us the idea that wellness can be bought, and through that, it prices out the communities that need access to healing resources the most. Vibe Check explores how Black folx are reclaiming their time, reconnecting with their power, and practicing self-care in their day-to-day lives.
I stopped making resolutions in my 20s — not because I don’t see the value in them, but because, like many folx who make them, I didn’t follow through with them beyond the first few weeks of the year. Less than 10% of New Year’s resolutions are actually achieved. So why do we bother to make resolutions each year? 
There’s a scientific explanation behind why making resolutions often doesn’t lead to change, no matter how committed we may be to self-improvement. If you’re like the general population, your resolutions are probably focused on changing a habit or creating a new one — something like exercising more, drinking less, or spending more time on your passions. The thing about habits is that they’re conditioned responses that are built over time, and while they’re not hard to make (think of the hundreds you’ve already created, like waking up in the morning and taking a shower), it can still be challenging to forge new behaviors, especially if that means changing the ones so deeply ingrained in our day-to-day routines.
If we’re to make lasting changes in our lives, then we need to get honest with ourselves about the ways we are and aren’t setting ourselves up for success, and the capacity we have to make necessary changes.

Why Resolutions Don’t Work

Back when I was still making resolutions, they were often based on broad goals like “saving money” that I couldn’t keep up with for more than a week at a time. The reason I wasn’t able to stick with them is because I wasn’t breaking these resolutions down into smaller, obtainable goals — things like making breakfast at home instead of buying avocado toast on the way to work (and making sure I was going to the grocery store instead of ordering in so I’d have what I needed to make meals at home). 
As Susan Weinschenk Ph.D. notes, attaching new behaviors to a previous habit will ensure you’re able to keep up with them. In my case, that would have looked something like cooking at home three days a week if I had already been cooking at home two days a week. My existing habit of cooking at home would become the "cue" for my new habit, according to Wenschenk’s explanation, which is cooking at home an additional day during the week.

New Year’s Resolutions Vs. New Year’s Commitments

I recently read an Inc. article that encouraged folx to lean away from making New Year’s resolutions and instead make New Year’s commitments. “The main reason I'm not a fan of traditional New Year's resolutions is that they focus too much on the end result without much thought on the planning needed to achieve them,” writes Amy Vetter, the article’s author. “For lasting change, you need to invest more in the journey, not the final destination.”
Vetter is essentially saying that there often isn’t enough presence brought to the action of creating change. And “investing” in one’s journey, while it can be challenging, doesn’t have to feel like a chore. For me, finding ways to truly be in and enjoy the journey makes it all the more pleasurable. I touched upon this in a previous installment of Vibe Check about mindfulness, which is defined by Mindful as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” As I noted then, I will turn anything into a mindful practice simply by allowing myself to be completely present in that activity, so instead of begrudgingly making meals at home, I’ll put on some good music while chopping veggies, and allow myself to attune to the action of creating a meal from my own hands that will then nourish my body. The act of cooking goes from merely being a way to save money to becoming a ritual, one in which I am co-creating my well-being with nature (the ingredients I’m preparing for my meal) and giving my body what it needs to be healthy. 

How To Make New Year’s Commitments — And Stick With Them

Keeping all of these points in mind, ask yourself: when making time to keep up with my New Year’s commitments, how can I bring more mindfulness to those goals? The key is getting creative with ways to immerse yourself in the beauty of the journey. Vision boarding is one of my favorite end-of-year rituals because it gives me something to look at as a reminder of what I’m creating for myself as I work toward my commitments in the New Year.
Other people may find it supportive to journal about the ways they made time for their commitments each day, or how they plan to make time for them from week-to-week. The answer to this question will look different for everyone, but once you find yours, I’m confident that all you’re seeking to manifest will fall into place.

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