The Problem With the ‘New Year, New You’ Mindset

It’s almost Dec. 31. Do you have your resolutions ready?

The question is about as hard to dodge as the “So, are you dating anyone?” questions you hear at nearly every family function. As the new year approaches, we as a society tend to do a lot of reflecting on how the last 365 days unfolded. Did we stay in shape like we planned? Did we impress our bosses enough to secure that next promotion? Did we find someone to love, or properly appreciate those we have?

Although the holidays are a time of joy and gratitude, the last days of the year are often filled with forward thinking, our faces to the horizon, looking for ways to make the following year even better. Phrases like “clean slate” and “starting over” saturate our newsfeeds, along with articles filled with a laundry list of life hacks for self-improvement. And although I love the hopeful eye with which many gaze, I have to admit that I have a problem with the “new year, new you” mentality.

I understand it’s meant to inspire, reframing the stroke of midnight as the gift of a fresh start. If we fell short of who we wanted to be this year, we can always try again next year. New year, new you!

But is that really what we want?

“New you” is said so casually that it’s easy to miss the deeper meaning. Oxford defines new as this: “not existing before; recently made, invented, introduced, etc.” New Year, new you literally means beginning the year as a completely new person. I don’t know what you think, but to me that sounds a little off. If I were to start the year completely unaffected by my past, who would I be? And what in the world would possess me to toss all of those memories into the trash?

It seems we only want to start the year anew when we feel the last was, well, less than satisfactory. But that is exactly the moment we should be digging in! When in your life have you noticed yourself grow stronger? I can tell you it’s not when things are sailing smoothly. In life, it’s during the hard times that we expand our strength and courage. It’s an “Oh shit!” response during the freefall, and a simple lesson in physics—take a deep breath and make yourself as big as possible to slow your speed in an effort to avoid crashing into the ground. Beginning the new year as a new you would be abandoning the possibility of your moment of glory. As someone who has free fallen many times and fought hard to reach where and who I am today, I’d rather like to bring that warrior into the new year with me.

Over the years, that warrior has crushed self-doubt, juggled multiple jobs, experienced injustice, lost loved ones, survived heartbreak and skin cancer… Sure, she made (plenty) mistakes and didn’t always drink more water or meet my other expectations, but that’s no reason to erase it all just to start fresh. The victories and the mistakes I’ve made have brought me to where I am today, and for that I am grateful.

The desire to improve is admirable and should certainly be encouraged. But we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves as to demand we start over if, come Jan. 1, we haven’t got our lives figured out. Some of my favorite memories came from things that were spontaneous and unplanned! And it would be a shame to discredit how far you’ve truly come. Life is hard. Perhaps you didn’t lose those 10 pounds or find a new job. Regardless, the year was not a wash because of a couple failed resolutions. You tried, and that counts for a lot more than you’d think. Gaining character and resilience is something to celebrate, not bury, at the start of a new year. I, for one, am not willing to hide my battle wounds for the sake of newness and perfection.

I stumbled across a quote somewhere that stated this idea simply: Life is like a canvas and every day is a new brush stroke. It would be nearly impossible to make a masterpiece if you were continually starting over. The “new year, new you” philosophy discredits the beauty of your journey, of taking failure and running with it. Maybe you accidentally dropped your paintbrush and smeared a black streak across the entire painting, and now your plan to paint a Thomas Cole version of the Alaskan winter is out of the question. That doesn’t mean you can’t still paint something sensational. And the best part is, when you do, that painting will be a true original and entirely your own.

So as the new year begins, be bold. Be brave. Don’t ditch what might look like a mess of a canvas for the ideal of perfection in a blank slate. Because real and lasting progress is made slowly and with grit, not simply when the date on the calendar says so. A fresh start might sound appealing, but there is something to be said for refusing to give up on yourself. For looking in the mirror and being determined to make something beautiful out of what you see, no matter the state at which you stand.

The important thing is to have patience and treat yourself with compassion. And remember that you, as you are now, are more than deserving of another year, a new year, to build and grow upon. You don’t need to start anew, you simply need the courage to start as you. 

This article was published in January 2017 and has been updated. Photo by

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Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, traveling and whenever possible, mixing the two. The UCLA alum lives in Los Angeles; more specifically westside coffee shops with equally strong wifi and dark roasts. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_onealor her website mnoneal.com.

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