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Debate Club: Can a New Year’s Resolution Actually Make a Difference?

Why I’m making a New Year’s resolution this year

by Kristina Johnson

I guess you could say I’m an eternal optimist. I’ve been making New Year’s resolutions my entire adult life, despite being among the vast majority of people who rarely stick with them. Every year when December 31st rolls around, I’ve found myself gearing up to start fresh in the year ahead with a totally cliché list of goals to achieve. Eat healthier. Get my caffeine habit under control. Start working out more (or, to be honest, at all).

Last year, however, was a little different. I rang in 2016 in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital where I’d given birth to my daughter the day before. With a due date in late January, I’d laughed it off whenever people had joked that I might have a New Year’s baby (convinced as I was that I was would be pregnant literally forever). To my great surprise, I did indeed begin the year as a brand new mother.

There’s nothing like being handed a mini human to care for 24/7 to give you a sense of perspective. Suddenly the idea of resolving to live a healthier lifestyle was more important than ever – I’m someone’s mom! I can’t have the dietary habits of a 7th grader anymore! But as so often happens to those of us who begin each new year with grand plans, life simply got in the way. My dreams of eating well and exercising more became hazier and hazier as my baby consumed more and more of my time.

I was ultimately much too busy to stand a chance at sticking to any sort of resolution for 2016, but as this year winds down I find myself thinking ahead to 2017 and the type of woman and mother I want to be in the new year.

Before I quit my job earlier this past summer to become a stay-at-home mom, I’d have to fill out a self-evaluation as part of my annual performance review. I would have to rate myself on how well I’d done my job. Was I “exceeding expectations”? Did I “need improvement”? Did I “achieve my goals”?

I was never too shy to give myself a glowing review. I knew I worked hard, had the respect of my peers, and always got the job done. I started each new work year proud of my accomplishments and confident that I’d learn more, earn more, and keep climbing the corporate ladder.

There was no official performance review for my first year as a mother, however. No one’s logged the countless hours I spent comforting and cuddling, and no one’s going to hand me a raise and a promotion for all my efforts. I certainly worked my butt off in 2016 to be a great mom. It was hands down the best year of my life, but it was also one filled with challenges and self-doubt and too many mistakes to count.

The smiling face of my happy, sweet, and mischievous almost-one-year-old lets me know I must have done something right this year. But I also know I can be an even better mother, because there’s always room for improvement when you’re doing the absolute hardest job in the world.

In 2017, I resolve to be more patient. I resolve to play more and hover less. I resolve to teach my daughter new things and learn some more myself. And yeah, I resolve to eat healthier and kick the caffeine habit – because there’s a little set of eyes watching everything I do.

The data says I won’t always be able to stick to these resolutions. And that’s probably true. But having some filed away in my mind gives me something to work toward. And they remind me that as my daughter begins her second year of life in 2017, and I begin my second year of motherhood, I owe it to both of us to never stop striving to be the best me I can be.

Don’t make New Year’s resolutions

by Cheryl Maguire

It’s January 14, 2016. People are filtering into the cycle room at the YMCA. I’m adjusting the seat on my stationary bicycle when I realize the class is almost full 20 minutes before it even starts (which is unusual).

The woman next to me, who regularly attends the class, grumbles, “I hate this time of year when all the ‘ressies’ take over the gym.”

Since I’m also a regular, I know her term “ressies” is referring to all the people who newly signed up for a gym membership in hopes of fulfilling their New Year’s resolution of working out. Every January for the past 15 years that I’ve been a member of the gym, I’ve witnessed this phenomenon.

I turn to her and say, “Don’t worry. They’ll all be gone by March.”

She laughs and says, “That is so true.”

Even though I made light of the situation, I actually feel sad knowing all of these people will not achieve a goal they created. Richard Wiseman studied 3,000 people who made New Year’s resolutions. At the end of the year he found only 12 percent of them had achieved their goal.

Despite the high number of failed goals-reaching, about 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. According to psychology professor Peter Herman, people usually don’t achieve their New Year’s resolution goals because they create unrealistic goals. People also tend to underestimate the difficulty in achieving these goals.

I wasn’t always a fitness fanatic. In fact, I would liken my former self to more of a couch potato who avoided all forms of exercise. My transformation was a long and slow process (over the course of several years) and it never involved a New Year’s resolution of working out more.

I think creating a goal just because the calendar (or other people) are telling you to will only set you up for failure which could result in a decreased sense of self-worth. Instead of setting a New Year’s resolution because it’s a new year, create goals throughout the year in those areas of life where you want make changes.

Instead of creating New Year’s resolutions this year, consider the following questions:

  • What did I accomplish this past year?
  • How can I build upon those accomplishments next year?
  • What are some things I could have done differently this past year?
  • List some people who were supportive of me this past year.
  • How can I support other people next year?
  • When I think about this past year I feel happy to remember . . .
  • When I think about this past year I feel sad to remember . . .
  • What are some new skills or information I learned this year?
  • What are some new skills I’d like to learn in the future?
  • What steps do I need to take to acquire these new skills?
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