What To Do With Failed New Year’s Resolutions

We’ve almost reached the end of January. If you’re like most people, this is about the time of year when those New Year’s resolutions you made a few weeks ago start to lose their appeal. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 92% of us fail to attain our resolutions.

Image courtesy of Kevin Skene on Flickr.

However, making resolutions and setting goals seems to be pretty important. In fact, individuals who explicitly make resolutions are about ten times more likely to achieve their goals than individuals who do not make resolutions. So, what do we do?

First, take a deep breath. Letting your New Year’s resolutions slide is definitely not a reason to be self-critical. Research shows that when we treat ourselves with compassion, we’re significantly less likely to give up on our goals. Rather than becoming frustrated and giving up, self-compassionate people view failure as a learning experience and opportunity for growth.

Second, remember that while New Year’s may be a traditional time for making resolutions, you can set a new goal any day of the year. If you do decide that you want to set new goals, here are some things you may want to consider:

  1. Be realistic. Focus on goals that are challenging, but attainable. Don’t try to change everything all at once. Pick what is most important to you, and stick with that.

    Resolution 2
    Image courtesy of Christopher Smith on Flickr.
  2. Write it down. Research shows that those who write down their goals are more successful than those who do not.
  3. Make it so easy that you can’t say no. Start with small steps. For example, maybe your goal is to do 25 push-ups per day. If you’re having trouble getting started, just think about doing 3 push-ups per day. Once it becomes part of your daily routine, slowly work up to more and more push-ups until you reach your goal. Those small changes add up!
  4. Work on changing your routine rather than looking for a particular result. Rather than trying to lose a certain amount of weight, consider shifting your focus to living a healthier lifestyle. This may include eating a balanced diet, exercising, or getting adequate sleep.
  5. Make it a positive goal. We respond better to prescriptive goals (goals that tell you what you should do) rather than proscriptive goals (goals that tell you what you should not do). For example, rather than having a goal of “stop eating junk food,” consider a goal of “eat more vegetables.”
  6. Be self. Don’t beat yourself up if you have trouble sticking to your goal. Know that you can always try again, and that you’re not alone. Extend the same compassion to yourself that you would extend to a friend trying out new goals.

What are your goals for 2016? Post them in the comments section below!


Kaitlyn Brodar is the Program Assistant for Resiliency Initiative at UNC Student Wellness and a Master of Public Health graduate student with a focus in Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She previously worked in cognitive psychology research on post-traumatic stress disorder after earning her bachelor’s in Psychology at Duke University.

Positivity Culture

by Nikhil Umesh


Have you ever had a terrible day, where everything seems to have been going wrong? You’ve overslept your morning class or maybe even forgot it’s your mom’s birthday. You let a friend know, venting to them about how stressed you are, running off the events of the day. In response, the only words they muster are:

“It’ll be okay! Everything happens for a reason.”


Upon initial glance, their response seems to imply that life’s events, notably the “bad” ones, are inevitable, and so you need to get yourself together and work through them. But if we think about what’s oftentimes really meant by “Everything happens for a reason,” we’d see that there’s an ulterior motive behind the phrase, too — since all of life’s twists and turns are inevitable, there must be a light at the end of every tunnel, a bright side to everything.

Tunnel towards another tunnel
“Tunnel towards another tunnel” photo by Smabs Sputzer.

The phrase is one of many examples of the positivity culture we live in, where saying that “Everything happens for a reason” becomes easier than doing the most powerful thing in the moment: acknowledging someone else’s pain.

Of course, positivity isn’t all bad. Having hope for a better future or faith in things improving during testy times is something we all do. I’ve definitely said “Everything happens for a reason” to myself many times in the past. However, deploying a certain brand of compulsory positivity to people around us in an uncritical fashion has the potential to do more harm than good.

For instance, the “Everything happens for a reason” dogma does not make room for how the pain many of us experience is the result of systems of power, privilege, and oppression. Being a person of color, living under conditions of material poverty, or having a mental illness aren’t one off events that many of us can power through.

Saying “Everything happens for a reason” indicates to those living under the boot of oppression that their pain is inevitable and necessary to make a better world. Normalizing pain and trauma via the inevitability of it can romanticize suffering as “teaching moments.” Experiencing sexual violence, bullying, or daily racial microaggressions do not need to make us into better people. Pain oftentimes can enable growth, but growth does not have to be divorced from the reality that pain can also be both debilitating and stifling. 

The tired trope of the “angry” or “strong” Black woman is a mainstay of mass media and popular culture, reinforcing the myth that Black women are loud or boisterous and need to be silent in their oppression. Similarly, what does it mean to demonize negativity for people living with chronic mental illnesses? Reinforcing positivity can blame those who deal day-in and day-out with serious negative thoughts that they should’ve just “learned” from their pain, rather than wallow in it. Positivity culture blames the victim for their very acknowledgement of pain.

We have a collective responsibility to shy away from the positivity mantra spoon fed to us by the mass media and self-help books galore. Instead of paternalistic advice or rationalizations to placate people, what would it look like to hold people in their full capacity to grieve and be okay with that? To push ourselves to be there with people, to suffer with them. To listen to them.

Instead, of “Everything happens for a reason,” why not some alternatives like, “I acknowledge your pain,” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here with you”?

There’s nothing wrong with grief. Because acknowledging the nuances of pessimism and negativity creates room for emotional honesty, where genuine healing can take place.  

Nikhil was born in Bangalore, India, though spent the majority of his childhood growing up in Kingston, Jamaica. Before joining the staff at Student Wellness, he was an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill where he studied Environmental Health Science. As a Program Assistant, Nikhil will be working closely with the recently founded Delta Advocates program and on campus messaging regarding healthy and supportive relationships. As a former UNC student, he is looking forward to working with young people on creating community-wide strategies to address, prevent, and end sexual violence and rape, while maintaining a focus on support systems that center the lived experiences and needs of survivors.

Bring in Positivity with Your ONYEN Password

I just received yet another email reminder that it is time to change my ONYEN password again. I don’t know about you, but trying to remember all of my passwords and access codes can be challenging, especially when I am regularly required to change one I use ALL the time. Every time I change my ONYEN password, it takes me a few days to get used to the new one.


At one point about a year ago, I became very frustrated with the requirement to change my ONYEN password along with my inability to come up with something I could remember. That day, my new passcode included the phrase “Ihatethis” along with the obligatory numbers and symbols. The moment I changed it, I felt really good about the decision – even a little bit vindicated, like I had somehow won over the technology.

What I quickly learned is that typing “Ihatethis” multiple times every single day became a problem for me. It reminded me of the negative feelings I had when I changed my password! Part of emotional health includes optimism and the ability to experience and cope with feelings independently and interpersonally. When I created that password, I wasn’t coping with my feelings well – I instead channeled them into a simple task which actually impacted me every day.

Needless to say, I changed my ONYEN password again before I received the 90 day reminder from ITS.

Today, I am looking at the opportunity to change my password as a small thing I can do to build more positivity and happiness into my life. I can choose to make this a password which brightens my day every time I enter it.

What words, symbols, phrases, or ideas bring you happiness? Without getting a password that is too predictable like “sunshine”, how can you make positivity part of your ONYEN password?