7 New Year's Resolutions To Make And 7 To Avoid

The new year is an exciting and hopeful time of year for many. With the previous year in the rearview mirror, January 1 can feel like a fresh start full of promise, hope, and new horizons. While the end of the year can be a great time for reflection of what you might want to leave behind, the new year can feel like a time when you want to start setting intentions about what you want to call in.

It's common for most people to feel a strong impetus for change around this time of year, as the new year offers an opportunity to exercise more, lose weight, or save more money — which just so happen to be the top three resolutions people set ahead of 2021, according to Statista. However well-intended these resolutions might be, though, research shows that the majority of people who were revved and ready to go on January 1 actually abandon their new year's resolutions by January 19 (via Mirror).

So what exactly happens to all of those promises? Well, the science explains what happens when you set certain types of resolutions versus others, and knowing which is which can set you up for some big wins. 

Don't set out to lose a certain amount of weight

All of the stuffing, alcohol, and sweet treats during the holiday season may have you monitoring the scale regularly and tallying up the extra pounds you've put on. It might seem logical to want to shed those, say, 5 pounds that may have snuck their way on throughout the year, (or more specifically between the dates of Thanksgiving and December 31), but it's possible you'll actually set yourself up for failure instead of success.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two types of goals you can set: outcome goals and process goals. Experts at the site explain that a goal such as planning to lose a certain amount of weight is an outcome-directed goal, which focuses more on the end result than the process itself. When you focus on setting these types of goals, you are not necessarily creating a plan for how to get to where you want to be, which is what will help you stay on track to achieving your goal.

Instead of just coming up with a number, the clinic explains it is best to create a strategy, such as eating a certain amount of fruits or veggies per day, or planning how much exercise you want to incorporate into your routine, to create a more specific structure.

Do use portion control and develop a positive approach toward meal time

Losing weight and keeping it off can be a struggle for many — new year or not. While it may feel challenging to set a weight loss goal for the new year and actually stick to it, it is within reach. Psychotherapist and author of the weight loss book "The Anderson Method," William Anderson told NBC News that when most people diet, they develop behaviors that help them lose weight, then plan on going back to their previous habits and hope to keep the weight off.

"If the 'normal' that you're thinking of getting back to is the behavior that makes people overweight ... what you're doing is losing weight and planning to regain it again. The main work that we need to do is not losing the weight — it is developing a way of living where you will not gain the weight," he detailed. Anderson instead advises finding the range of calories that you need to maintain your goal weight and sticking with that. He advocates for portion control and cautions against creating a restrictive diet that creates negative associations with food.

Don't force yourself to be happy

Being happy is something that many learn to strive for from a young age. While the way people choose to get there may vary, the overall goal is the same: contentment with self and contentment with life. However, if you start out the new year determined to be happy come January 1, some experts suggest pausing to reconsider this resolution. 

Brock Bastian, a social psychologist at the University of Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences in Australia explained to Time, "Happiness is a good thing, but setting it up as something to be achieved tends to fail. Our work shows that it changes how people respond to their negative emotions and experiences, leading them to feel worse about these and to ruminate on them more."

Verywell Mind echoes this sentiment and explains that those positive affirmations you're repeating to yourself before bedtime might actually be backfiring. If there exists too big of a gap between what you're saying and what your subconscious mind believes, it can actually create stress and resistance and keep you from being happy. In this case, it is best to work with affirmations that are still positive but more closely mirror what you believe to help close that gap over time.

Do stay present

You've probably heard it a million times before, but perhaps this bandwagon is the best one to jump on yet. Mindfulness, or the practice of staying in the present moment, is a very powerful and effective way to ease stress, anxiety, and even depression.

According to the Mayo Clinic, mindfulness is essentially connecting to a meditative state in which you bring your focus inward toward what you are feeling, and release all judgment and thought processes. Because of the way we are wired to exist in today's world which requires a high amount of our attention, tension and anxiety are more likely to make their way into our lives. Staying mindful and being gently aware of our inner feelings and external environment shifts the focus away from the stressors that we cannot control and helps us focus on the present moment.

The Mayo Clinic recommends a variety of mindfulness exercises including slowing down and using your five senses to experience the world more fully (such as taking your time to eat a meal), finding joy in simple things, accepting yourself as you are, and focusing on your breathing. Doing seated or walking meditations can also be a good addition to your routine, according to the site.

Don't set a resolution to find your soulmate

Finding true love may find its way onto your list of New Year's resolutions. While being in love has many positive side effects and can actually be good for your health, endlessly swiping right on your dating app in hopes of finding your life partner may have the opposite effect.

A study that tested 374 people discovered an association between the use of dating apps and anxiety. According to licensed marriage and family therapist Mindy Fox, if you are feeling stressed out when dating, it's probably a sign that you need to do some deeper digging to get to the "root" of what is really causing you anxiety. Are you someone who tends to jump into things too quickly and declare your partner "the one"? She cautions against this and instead suggests listening carefully during your dates and giving the relationship a trial period before you get too serious. She also suggests listening to — and trusting — your feelings, seeing the person regularly, and being clear about your needs. At the end of the day, if you're still feeling anxious, turn to self-love and acceptance, she says.

Do release dating expectations and enjoy the process

If you happen to have been one of the people that included "finding the one" on your list of new year's resolutions, feel free to cross it off now and take a deep sigh of relief. According to the experts, it's not necessarily the process of dating itself, but our expectations that can cause us undue stress. Certified relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca spoke to Bustle and expanded on this concept. "Erroneous expectations create all the havoc in dating. When we approach dating with a bunch of 'should' rules, we set ourselves up for disappointment and stress." She suggests nixing the "shoulds," i.e. "he should call me X times a week, make X amount of money, etc." and just allowing things to play out naturally. Often times, she explains, these rules that we make up are just "our" rules, and that the people we are dating are either completely unaware of them, or they just don't make sense to them. Being open and letting go of any rigid expectations (ones that are not based on your morals or values) will help ease anxiety and bruised feelings.

Don't cut out junk food completely

If you are trying to make this next year the year you cut out pizza, french fries, donuts, et cetera, you may be setting yourself up for a lot of stress. A study published by the journal Appetite found that cutting out junk food can actually produce severe withdrawal symptoms similar to quitting cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs (via Healthline). The study found that participants experienced cravings and felt irritable, tired, and sad in the few days after quitting junk food, which directly compares to withdrawal symptoms associated with addictive substances.

If you are unprepared for these negative side effects, it may be easy to fall back into your old patterns and completely sabotage your healthy eating plans. So why does this happen, exactly? Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, assistant professor of medicine in the division of human nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), spoke to Healthline and explained that sugar, salt, fat, and caffeine produce dopamine in the body, which is connected to the reward center in the brain. When you eat these things you feel pleasure, and your brain becomes addicted to the sensation, seeking more of those substances as time goes on, she explained.

Do integrate manageable dietary changes

While going cold turkey on junk food may not work for you, you can still cut back, and perhaps even cut out junk food completely if you are prepared for the withdrawal symptoms and have a solid plan in place.

Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, assistant professor at UCLA, offered an alternative approach. "The minute we completely take something away, we put ourselves in a negative mind frame," she told Healthline. "It's important to tell yourself more positive affirmation: 'I will have it, just not today.'" She suggests making sure your blood sugar remains balanced by beginning the day with foods that are high in protein, as well as drinking enough water, and making sure you are getting enough sleep. She explains that these are lifestyle changes that need to happen in order to help manage the stress of withdrawal symptoms so you don't fall back on old patterns.

Don't quit smoking cigarettes without a plan

If you've been smoking for any length of time, chances are you've probably thought about quitting more than once. While the new year may seem like a good time to quit cold turkey, you don't want to go in without a plan.

According to a study published by The Royal Society for Public Health in the U.K., while quitting smoking was one of the most popular New Year's resolutions in Britain, three out of five people who made the vow to quit smoking ended up relapsing by January 31, and only 13% of those surveyed had remained smoke-free a year later.

Andrea King, professor of psychiatry and co-leader of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center's Cancer Prevention and Control program, spoke to the university's website and explained that smoking reminders or "cues" are widespread throughout society. Seeing someone smoking or even just seeing an ashtray can trigger a relapse. The site explains that one-third of attempts to quit smoking end in failure in less than seven days. However, the key to quitting for good is to read up on the dangers of smoking and find support. "Evidence-based smoking-cessation methods can help people quit smoking. However, it isn't easy. Most smokers can increase their odds of success by using evidence-based methods and seeking professional help," King detailed.

Do develop a strategic plan to quit smoking

If you are biting your nails thinking about all the ways your plan to quit smoking is doomed to fail, not to worry. It is entirely possible to quit, and there are a number of ways to do it to increase your chances of success.

According to WebMD, the best way to start the process of quitting is to pinpoint your reason for wanting to quit. Finding a reason, such as wanting to improve your health, can serve as motivation when the pull to smoke feels strong. Secondly, if you are interested in the idea of going cold turkey, the site explains it's important to be aware that you will experience withdrawal. If you are not prepared for that, your chances of success will be much slimmer.

Gathering support in the form of classes, therapy, and even medication before quitting can help. Another great way to help you through the process is to find things that can help you relax. Experts at the site explain the reason why most people smoke is to relax, so if you find a way to replace cigarettes with something that calms you like a massage, a warm bath, or meditation, it might take the edge off of quitting.

Don't force yourself to go to the gym everyday

Perhaps you've seen the before-and-after photos of the gym crowds before and after New Year's and had a good laugh. Jokes aside, it's true that gyms are typically more packed come January 1, as exercise is one of the top new year's resolutions (via Statista). So you've bought a new pair of sneakers, some snazzy workout gear, and have made a plan to hit the gym every day after work — no excuses. With all this optimism, what could possibly go wrong?

According to WebMD, while a healthy dose of motivation is good, it's possible that the daily goal of hitting the gym daily might be too much if you're starting from zero. Gerald Endress, an exercise physiologist at Duke Center for Living in North Carolina, spoke to the site and explained that beginners "want to go for maximal goals, but they tend to get overwhelmed." Adding onto this theory, Healthline explains that oversized expectations that ultimately end in failure can set you up for "frustration, self-judgment, and potentially even depression." WebMD experts explain that it is realistic to miss a day or two, and releasing the guilt about that will help you stay motivated.

Do discover new motivations for working out

If you want to make positive changes to your health this new year you're already off to a great start. Experts at WebMD encourage exercise newbies to stop clinging to the goal of hitting the gym every day, release heavy expectations, and focus on your positive motivations behind wanting to get fit.

To start, the site recommends releasing any comparison and focusing on your own fitness journey only. Comparing yourself to other people that might be farther along will only drag you down and keep you from reaching your goals. Secondly, if you are feeling down or unmotivated, find yourself a "cheer squad" to help keep your spirits up when you feel like giving up. Make sure that the people you surround yourself with veer away from criticism and stay in encouraging territory only.

You should also aim to have fun. Essentially, if you are not enjoying what you're doing, maybe it's time to find another exercise that makes you more excited. If the thought of going to the gym is boring or nauseating, take a dance class, head out on a hike, or go for a swim instead.

Don't force yourself to be at peace

If there's anything you've taken away from reading this far, it should be that forcing yourself to do anything is not an effective technique when it comes to New Year's resolutions. This is particularly true when it comes to intangible things such as our mental and emotional states, as these reactions are much harder to control (via Real Simple).

If you've tried to convince yourself to calm down during intense moments of anxiety, you may have already realized it doesn't really work. Ian Robertson, professor emeritus at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin, Ireland, and author of "The Stress Test" spoke to Real Simple and explained why. "The difficulty with telling yourself to relax when you're feeling anxious is that the bodily symptoms and mental symptoms of relaxation are the opposite of those of stress and anxiety," he explained. When you are in the midst of a panic attack your body reacts by increasing your heart rate, sweating, and breathing heavily. When you are relaxed your heart rate is normal and so is your breathing.

Finding new ways to ease your anxiety, such as finding ways to take action to change your situation, or even going to sleep, can be more effective than just telling yourself to calm down.

Do feel your real feelings

It might seem counterintuitive, but research has discovered that the road to long-lasting happiness might actually be in allowing yourself to feel negative emotions and thoughts.

According to a study published by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the level at which you are able to allow your thoughts and emotions to surface without judging them can significantly influence your mental health. The research shows that a higher level of acceptance is positively linked with improved mental health. When you react to your negative emotions by judging them, you are actually increasing the negative thought and feeling process with the additional judgment. Allowing your negative feelings and thoughts to surface improved "psychological well-being, life satisfaction, and depressive and anxiety symptoms" in the subjects that were studied.

If you are interested in exploring this technique, the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests keeping a journal to express all of those thoughts and feelings from a neutral perspective to release them. The site explains that journaling can help with anxiety, stress, and depression, and potentially zero in on the source of your stress.