“New Year, New You.” I bet you’ve heard that phrase before. Perhaps this January? Perhaps every January? It’s likely that even right now your inbox is awash in advertisements from meal subscription services, and fitness brands, and retailers you frequent, all with a sneaky promise that 2021 could be your year, if you just give over your credit card number and buy the items you need — those new leggings, that adorable Tupperware — to make it so. That said, statistics show that of all the people who make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent stick to them. That then raises the question: Is New Year, New You less a self-betterment promise and more a great marketing gimmick?
The practice of making New Year’s resolutions is thousands of years old. New Year’s resolutions began as promises to the gods and progressed through the centuries into something more secular: promises to ourselves, affirmations that with a new year we will morph into our best iterations yet. Come the new year we will be a version of ourselves that eats healthier, is in amazing shape, is endlessly productive, hyper-organized. Uncoincidentally, the most popular resolutions are often items that align easily with consumerism. As Walmart laid out in a 2021 customer trends document, appropriately titled ‘New Year, New You’, shoppers have buckets in which resolutions often sit (health & wellness, home improvement, education & career) and Walmart has items for sale to bring those resolutions to fruition (self-care and nutrition products, organization and DIY goods, a wardrobe upgrade).
“I can’t say I know where the specific phrase ‘New Year, New You’ comes from, it definitely sounds like a marketing team put that together,” Kat Robinson a marketing strategist specializing in audience and customer engagement tells Yahoo Life. “It taps into a mindset people already have around making New Year’s resolutions. Marketing campaigns are successful when they deliver a message that authentically resonates with the audience.”
“Marketing fundamentally exists to motivate a behavior,” explains Veronica Thew, Deputy Head of Strategy at Mother New York. “At the start of a new year, that ‘resolution’ mindset means that people are primed for behavior change. So it's a perfect time to start a new gym membership or wellness routine. Subscriptions and sign-ups spike in January, making it a critical time to ensure your brand is top-of-mind.”
From a marketing perspective, it helps that ‘New Year, New You’ is also pretty easily applied to any product. “The ‘New Year, New You’ slogan is so versatile that it fits neatly onto nearly every brand. The task for the brand is to study and know their community well enough to clearly know what, ‘New Year, New You’ translates [to] for them,” adds Lauren Alexander VP Marketing at Neurohacker Collective. Alexander also identifies herself as a resolution keeper, “I am one of the 8 percent that typically does complete their New Year’s resolutions,” she says. “I’ve seen a goal I’ve set for New Year’s really transform my life positively so, in short, I really buy into the possibility of ‘New Year, New You.’”
But what if you are part of the other 92 percent? The very many people, the vast majority of people, who make resolutions only to break them. There seems to be a shifting tide that recognizes that grand New Year’s resolutions are a setup for failure and that the better move might be to direct people toward more sustainable changes that are easier to uphold.
This annual ‘new you’ prompt has come to imply that there is an endless selection of ‘yous’ to choose from on some carousel of life. Megan Hellerer
“This annual ‘new you’ prompt has come to imply that there is an endless selection of ‘yous’ to choose from on some carousel of life and each year you simply select a new persona and then resolve that you shall make it so,” says career coach Megan Hellerer who runs an online program called WTF Am I Doing With My Life? “Even if you are successful in convincingly and perfectly performing this ‘new you’ character — a character who we imagine is happier than you are because she is 15 pounds lighter, or meditates every day, or has a more successful career — it will not actually make you happier, but rather more miserable. I often reframe the ‘new year, new you’ to instead say, ‘new year, true you,’ — ‘to true,’ being a verb that I borrowed from carpentry that means, ‘to restore to accuracy.’ Fulfillment, peace, joy, purpose, meaning, connection and all the juicy good stuff that we’re all looking for when we’re designing these new selves of ours doesn’t come from performing some idealized version of yourself, but instead from restoring yourself to accuracy. We want to seek greater authenticity and integrity, and a ‘new you’ is inherently the inauthentic opposite of that.”
“‘New You’ carries with it an implication that whoever you were leading up to this point was somehow not good enough,” says Julia Tishman, MS, RD, CDN, and Associate Dietitian at F-Factor. “There is nothing wrong with making a list of resolutions for the new year, but we should be realistic. Instead of changing drastic things about who you are, set small, measurable, and attainable goals.”
Many experts agree that even if striving for full reinvention at the start of a new year is not a recipe for success, checking in with yourself throughout the year and finding your own means of reflection and assessment is. “I believe that improving ourselves is a dynamic and constant process,” Tishman says. With respect to her area of expertise, nutrition, she says that routine, not resolutions, is the key. “Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying a fad diet that only lasts a few weeks,” Tishman says. “Try a sustainable diet that you find manageable and balanced that works for you.”
“A calendar is hugely helpful for creating supportive and aligned structure for personal accountability, consistency, and continuity,” says Hellerer with her eye toward career resolutions. “I encourage a practice of, what I call, Touchpoints, which are regular, habitual, and scheduled reflection and assessment intervals. Like any ongoing and growing enterprise, it is important to have regular reflection and evaluation systems. Businesses do this, usually in the form of OKRs, quarterly and annually. We did this in school — such as midterms and semester grades. Our lives and careers are no different.” Hellerer recommends birthdays as a good time for reflection and an annual review of your life.
A more popular mantra these days is ‘progress over perfection.’ Veronica Thew
Marketing expert Thew thinks that societally we are moving away from the entire idea of annual reinvention and the pandemic’s lockdown has something to do with that. “People want to nurture themselves not change themselves,” Thew notes. “I personally think the ‘New Year, New You’ moment has passed. There's a desire for more organic personal growth and improvement these days. Yes, there's potential and possibility ahead, but people are wary of unrealistic expectations – especially as this past year showed just how easily even our best laid plans can fall apart. A more popular mantra these days is ‘progress over perfection.’ People have found this ultimately gets them further.”
So perhaps what we should be striving for is not exactly New Year, New You but perhaps New Year, More Intentional You, or New Year, Check In With Yourself.
“Change happens when people acknowledge the need for change and are ready to take action, big or small, towards the goal,” says psychotherapist Cecille Ahrens. “‘New Year, Be You’ might be a more fitting message, because ultimately, for many of us, the pursuit of our goals is deeply connected to our desire to self-actualize and be who (not what) we are meant to be in this lifetime.”
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