Why We Should Build Resilience, Not Resolutions
The last two years have has taught us that there’s very little we can predict or control. The only thing we do have control over is our own behavior. So, shouldn’t we be making lots of New Year’s resolutions right about now?
Researchers and mental health experts say no. Their recommendation is to build resilience rather than focusing on accomplishing goals. Measuring our worth by what we achieve and how many items we can check off our list won’t support mental health or life satisfaction in the long run. That’s because New Year’s resolutions are typically based on our idea of what will make us more likable, impressive, or “better,” rather than what really matters to us.
Why Resolutions Don’t Work
Studies show that most New Year’s resolutions don’t work. In part, that’s because we tend to set unrealistic expectations and goals. We set out to do too much in too many different areas of life, and quickly give up because the tasks we’ve set for ourselves are so daunting. And instead of examining our real desires and motivations, we use others’ achievements as a guide, comparing ourselves to others’ looks, habits, and accomplishments, as portrayed in carefully curated images on social media. That can lead to a sense of unworthiness and lack, which drives us to make unattainable resolutions.
As a result, failure is baked right in. For those who struggle with self-esteem or suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, giving up and “failing” at a New Year’s resolution can exacerbate negative emotions. Feelings of shame, self-hatred, hopelessness, disappointment, and despair can accompany the process of making and then breaking resolutions, no matter how unrealistic those goals are.
What Is Resilience, and Why Is It Important?
Multiple studies point to resilience as a source of positive emotions, overall well-being, and good mental health. What is resilience? It’s the ability to navigate challenging experiences and recover more quickly from adversity. “People with higher levels of emotional resilience have an easier time adapting to stressful situations or crises, with fewer negative effects,” says Kristin Wilson, Vice President of Clinical Outreach at Newport Healthcare. “They’re able to bounce back more quickly from setbacks, and to take challenges in stride.”
It’s impossible to avoid grief, disappointment, and distress. But resilient people are able to move through these experiences more easily and return to their usual levels of well-being. Furthermore, resilience and mental health are closely linked. During the pandemic, people with higher levels of resilience were less likely to experience depression, trauma, and anxiety. Resilient people also have a lower risk of turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, self-harm, or eating disorders.
4 Ways to Build Resilience
While some people seem to have naturally high resilience levels, recent research shows that developing resilience is possible. We can build resilience just as we would work to acquire any other skill. Here are four ways to start.
Practice self-compassion. Offering yourself acceptance, compassion, and unconditional love regardless of your perceived flaws or failures is central to developing resilience. Build resilience by using compassionate self-talk or touch, such as placing a hand or both hands on your heart when you feel stress or self-judgment arise.
Integrate mindfulness into your day. Practices like yoga and meditation help to enhance self-acceptance and the ability to be in the present moment, rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness exercises also increase what’s known as vagal tone, a measurement connected to the vagus nerve and correlated with stronger stress resilience.
Develop strong social connections. Having a strong social support network is proven to increase resilience. These connections may include friends, family, colleagues, and mentors, as well as a mental health professional who can guide you in addressing underlying issues affecting your well-being.
Appreciate what’s good in your life. Research shows that consciously practicing gratitude increases resilience and positive emotions. So instead of making a New Year’s resolution, consider starting the new year with the knowledge that where you are right now is exactly where you need to be. From a foundation of self-acceptance, gratitude, and resilience, growth and change will happen naturally.