Broken New Year’s resolutions aren’t the end

Bettering yourself should come from the heart, not expectation

A mastery-approach practice is the better way to improve. ILLUSTRATION: Shaheen Virk / The Peak

by Katarina Chui, SFU Student

In Ann M. Martin’s book, Karen’s New Year, Karen watches as her family makes — and eventually breaks — all of their New Year’s resolutions. Like Karen, this was the first time I had heard of New Year’s resolutions, and I felt her disappointment as she watched her brother forget to floss everyday and her best friend continue to bite her nails. As I finished the book, I remember thinking that surely it wasn’t hard to keep your resolutions, and that determination would result in my success.

That New Year’s Day, I made a resolution: write in my diary everyday. I think that resolution failed after a few weeks, if not days. I later realized it was so hard to keep it because I viewed it as a pass or fail situation, rather than a continual process of self-improvement. Instead of treating our goals like this, we should instead be embracing the possibility of broken resolutions, as they are not falls, but parts of our journey.

The theories of mastery-approach and performance-avoidance best explain this idea. Mastery-approach is a self-determined, personally-rewarding mindset about moving toward a goal and produces the highest percentage of success rates for achieving it. In contrast, performance-avoidance, a competitive mindset where rewards are received externally, moves away from failure and results in the lowest rate of success.

Common conceptions about New Year’s resolutions follow this idea of performance-avoidance. This contributes to an 80% annual unfinished resolution attempt rate. We make resolutions for a reason; we want to change a part of ourselves. Whether they were made because of tradition or just for fun, these annual promises can be a starting block for creating real change in our lives. Approaching these goals with a mastery-approach mindset would help change the outcome of these resolutions. This change would help us appreciate the effort and enjoyment of learning and improving, rather than defining our achievements by only meeting a goal.

My piano lessons helped me develop a strong, mastery-approach mindset in music. I learned piano due to my own self-determination, interest, and passion. My piano teacher praised my effort, rather than my successes. Her feedback did not deter me as I viewed her words as an opportunity to learn, not a means of finality. I measured my ability not in relation to others, but rather to my own goals. Because I wanted to learn piano for myself, others’ successes did not threaten me or make me feel like my musical journey mattered less.

Adopting a mastery-approach practice can be the bridge between bettering ourselves and still having fun. Instead of viewing New Year’s resolutions as a challenge or a race where one misstep can cost you your prize, we can view it as an adventure. By focusing on learning and self-improvement rather than just an end goal, we can appreciate all the joy and effort made in the process. From this, we won’t become discouraged when inevitable setbacks occur. We are not perfect, and our journeys to betterment aren’t either. 

No one is ever successful on the first try. Thomas Edison spent almost ten years developing and improving what would eventually become the electric lamp. As long as we are open to constantly improving, viewing a broken resolution not as an end but rather as just a brief interruption in our journey, New Year’s resolutions can hold a crucial and impactful change in our lives.