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How I Handle New Year's Resolutions as Someone With OCD

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My relationship with New Year’s resolutions is complicated, to say the least.

I used to make one every year. When I was a kid, I made them because that was what I thought I was supposed to do. My parents encouraged me to make them, and from what I remember, they were usually your typical “good kid” resolutions: do all my chores, watch less television, keep my room clean, eat more vegetables.

In my teens and college years, it became more about living up to what I saw posted by friends on social media. December 31st and January 1st always brought about endless scrolling through long “year in review” reflections, photo montages and vows to change big things in the next 365 days. Naturally, I followed suit, posting my own lofty goals and tapping the like button on everyone else’s as they appeared on my feed.

As wonderful as these resolutions seemed on January 1st each year, they almost always seemed to create some problems later on.

First, my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) brain would kick in, constantly causing me to “check” on the status of my resolution. Have I done what I said I was going to do? Have I missed a day of doing — insert daily goal of your choice here — yet? What about yesterday? Last week? Have I really been doing as good of a job as I think I have?

Then, once I (or my OCD) determined that I hadn’t been living up to the resolution I set, an additional spiral of negative thought patterns would ensue. Guilt, shame, self-doubt and questioning. By February, I would give up completely on whatever it was I had resolved to do and wallow in the fact that I had failed once again. Maybe the following year would be different. But it never was.

A couple of years ago, I decided I’d had enough of that cycle. So for the first time that I can remember, I consciously decided not to make a New Year’s resolution. I wasn’t going to make any major changes in the new year. I was just going to keep driving forward on the road I was on. No detours, no pit stops, no u-turns.

Don’t get me wrong, New Year’s resolutions work for some people. If you’re someone who sets them happily each year, I’m happy for you! For me though, the negative always seemed to outweigh the positive. I decided to accept and embrace that maybe they weren’t for me. And that just because I felt some societal pressure, I didn’t have to make one.

I still set goals, day-to-day. But I try to keep them small and attainable. And most importantly, when I don’t meet them quite as planned, I make sure to have grace with myself. Because guess what? Life? It’s imperfect. And so am I. When I made New Year’s resolutions, they always felt so absolute. And they almost always somehow got twisted into something that was tied to my self-worth. Taking away the pressure that the changing of the calendar seemed to eliminate those issues and all of the unhealthy thought patterns I used to have.

So as we move into 2022, I do not have a New Year’s resolution. I am not planning to make any major lifestyle changes. Instead, I’m marking the date change with a few “focus words” that I can recall in the coming months — whenever I feel like I need a little mindset refresh, or when it feels like my OCD is getting the better of me: grit, gratitude and hope. Grit, because life is unpredictable, and some days will always be tougher than others. Gratitude, because it’s important to appreciate what you have, big and small. And hope, because let’s face it, in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, we can all use some more of that. These words are my New Year’s gift to myself, an additional tool to keep in my mental health toolkit and reframe my thinking when I need to.

If you made a New Year’s resolution this year, awesome! And if you chose not to, that’s perfectly OK. Regardless of your choice, I hope that you are able to enter 2022 with whatever tools you need to take care of yourself, physically and mentally. For me, that means I’m going to keep on cruising along this road that I’m on — carrying grit, gratitude and hope along with me.

Originally published: January 5, 2022
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