Mental Health

Resolutions vs Goals: Progress vs Perfection

This New Year's, I choose not to focus on goals and resolutions but instead on little "works in progress."

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Originally published January 22, 2014. Updated January 5, 2024.

Content Warning: anxiety, eating disorders, perfectionism

Each January marks the beginning of a new calendar year. The act of turning the calendar page is the universe’s way of giving us a clean slate. For most, this means the chance to store away old habits with winter boots to make room for spring’s raincoats and umbrellas. As a society, we make use of New Year’s Resolutions for these means.

Let’s Talk New Year’s Resolutions

Conceptually, New Year’s Resolutions are harmless.

The term “resolution,” which formally means “to transform,” allows us to replace harmful habits with helpful ones as we open our eyes to the fresh New Year. We reflect on the past year, thinking of what we could improve upon and fill our lists with self-improvement “goals.”

However, as the anxiety around fulfilling these goals consumes our minds, we begin to forget growth is an ongoing process.

Related: New Year’s Resolutions: a New Approach

Progress vs. Perfection

The fear of failing to achieve our goals hides all the beauty that comes with progress.

Embracing the concept of progress instead of achievement is a difficult one.

As humans, we continually compare ourselves to each other and to ourselves. When we do not meet our own standards or our perception of society’s standards, highlight achievement, awards, and recognition, we induce great stress on our bodies, minds, and souls.

Achievement implies perfection.

It means that the sole purpose of our everyday actions is an immediate benefit or a reward at the end.

Contrarily, progress means growth.

It is uplifting in its positivity for progress is the evolution of understanding. It means we are willing to work on our journey, and slip-ups and stumbles are not only welcome but integral.

Progress reminds us we are imperfect, and everyone is working towards creating a better life – for themselves and those around them.

In embracing progress, we embrace the resolution to change our daily behaviours and attitudes, reminding us we are interconnected and our actions affect those around us.

Resolutions vs. Works in Progress

When we give ourselves goals and do not achieve these goals, we become frustrated and disappointed with ourselves.

This frustration is detrimental – not only because we deprive ourselves of acknowledging the little accomplishments we have made but also because it lessens our self-worth.

We feel we have ‘failed’ when we do not meet our own expectations. This is because the term goal concentrates solely on the final product. But what happens when we finally reach the finish line? Are we truly happy, or are we in search of another goal to tick off?

As a perfectionist, I know when I fall short of my own expectations, my anxiety rises, and I quickly relapse into eating disordered behaviours.

And each New Year, I set out with a list of tasks to accomplish; I feel worthless when I do not succeed at these goals. The emphasis on the ending is why I have to continually fight these urges to overcome the ingrained need to reach perfection.

Knowing this, this New Year’s, I choose not to focus on goals and resolutions but instead on little “works in progress.”

This means I do not have to meet any bar I set, but instead, I will spend each day appreciating the little nuggets of knowledge and memories I am continually blessed with.

I will focus on self-growth instead of self-improvement and enjoy the progress instead of the achievement.

Referring to resolutions as self-growth allows me to understand I am constantly growing and growth is the most necessary part of life. Without growth, the steady state we remain in becomes disturbed with each new challenge constantly presented to us, leading to anxious thoughts and self-destructive behaviours.

In believing in growth, I am humbly reminded to always accept guidance each day I walk this journey.

Closing Thoughts

In remembering the reward comes in the progression and not the ending, we remain hopeful that we can keep fighting the inner battles we slay each day. We may never reach the end as we do not have the ability to predict the future.

It is the present moment we live in, and it is in each second we learn and progress.

In the end, the memory of the journey will be imprinted on our hearts. And in this knowledge, we cease anxieties and fuel hope. For the reward is perpetually with us, allowing us to embrace all fears and change and appreciating the progression is much more rewarding than reaching the goal.


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