For some reason, we’ve been trained to believe that when January 1st rolls around the clock resets. Year after year, we get ourselves into the habit of setting New Year’s resolutions, as if a new year is going to motivate us to actually reach our goals. There are a few reasons why a new year isn’t a fresh start.

We have the best of intentions when setting resolutions on January 1st … we really do. But, oftentimes by Valentine’s Day we’ve pushed our resolutions aside and resorted back to the very habits and cycles we’ve been desperate to break.

Why do we put so much pressure on making a change come January 1st? Maybe it’s because it’s all we know, perhaps it’s just purely habitual, or maybe we do it because we’re told or expected to, but in any case, setting New Year’s resolutions could be the very thing that’s preventing us from attaining our goals.

Think about it: rather than force yourself to set goals for the new year, why not instead make a change or set a resolution when you actually feel like it? You can start over, quit a bad habit, or set a goal when the moment feels right. It doesn’t have to be part of your New Year’s celebration (unless that honestly does work for you; in which case, go you!)

Truthfully, a new year isn’t a fresh start. You can start over anytime you’d like.

A New Year isn’t a fresh start—here’s why you shouldn’t wait to make changes:

1. There’s less pressure

When you wait for January 1st for that magical clean slate, you’re putting unnecessary pressure on one date to effect change for the entire year to come. All that pressure is bound to cause anxiety and may even prevent you from actually sticking to your resolutions. It’s just too much.

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A new year in’t a fresh start, and you shouldn’t wait until January 1 to “fix” your life. Instead, start fresh when the mood strikes. When you’re looking at your body in the mirror thinking you’d really like to drop a few pounds, commit right then and there.

When you’re mid-exhale on the last drag of a cigarette, make the call right then and there that that will be your last one. Don’t wait for January 1st to sign up at the gym or take up singing lessons or commit to reading a book a week. Do it when you feel ready and see if that motivation helps you effect long-term change.

2. Making a change in the moment will help you set realistic goals

When you’re setting New Year’s resolutions, you might be picking something completely random to change because it was an assignment at work or your roommate is pressuring you to do it with them to hold each other accountable. The resolutions you’re setting might not even be meaningful or realistic.

Why set resolutions just for the sake of tradition? Make a change in the moment as it actually relates to your life. Whether it be your doctor warning you that your cholesterol levels are high and you need to revisit your diet, or you realize how much money you spend on your morning coffee routine and that money could instead be saved up for a trip, commit in the moment.

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It takes awareness to see that small changes now can make a big impact later, and those are the goals that end up being more realistic to stick with overtime.

3. You’ll forgive yourself more when you mess up

You’re human and you’re going to slip up. Not every resolution is a straight line from setting the goal, working toward the goal, and achieving it.

People quit their diets and recommit later. Smokers quit but slip up and have another cigarette. Life is messy and gets in the way.

Sometimes, things just happen and you need a break. There’s no reason to unnecessarily stress yourself out if you stray from your resolutions. Acknowledge when you slipped and recommit. Forgive yourself.

When you’re not worried about fulfilling a resolution by December 31st, you might realize you’re giving yourself more grace to be human and make mistakes. It’s all going to be okay if your resolution doesn’t start on January 1st and end on December 31st. Promise.

4. Some resolutions require more time and space to fulfill.

It takes time to effect long-term, sustainable change. Studies say it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but according to Psychology Today, it takes more like 66 days, on average. When you tell yourself you’re going to effect change in a year, maybe that sounds realistic (and in some cases maybe it is) but certain resolutions take longer to fulfill.

Losing weight takes time. Earning a new degree takes time. Quitting smoking, learning a new skill, and speaking a foreign language all take time.

Don’t get down on yourself if you can’t form a new habit or reach a goal in 365 days. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

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Start your resolution when you’re ready and make it part of your life everyday until it sticks. Stop worrying about the calendar long enough to see if you can make your resolution a sustainable part of your daily life.

Start fresh on your own timeline.

At the end of the day, everyone is different. Some people need physical calendars or planners to reach their goals and find success in setting New Year’s resolutions. But it’s probably fair to assume most people don’t.

There were so many of us, myself included, who had goals for 2020 that were completely derailed because of all of the economic and social hardships the year unexpectedly brought us. If anything, it’s a harrowing yet important reminder that life is unpredictable and we need to stay resilient.

2021 is not a magical reset. Many of 2020’s challenges will carry into the new year (and years to come, for that matter). It’s great to set goals and try to achieve them, but give yourself grace when life gets in the way.

Give yourself the room to commit to a resolution when you feel ready to dedicate the time and energy it takes to fulfill it. Maybe that’s January. Maybe it’s June. Maybe it’s a random Sunday afternoon in the middle of October.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter when, so long as you find the inspiration, motivation, and discipline to go out there and effect change in your life in a sustainable, realistic way. A new year isn’t a fresh start, it’s just a new year. 

You do you. The rest will follow.