Mental Health

New Year resolutions: Matt Haig’s take on the “new year, new me” debate is seriously refreshing

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Lauren Geall
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The past 12 months has seen each and every one of us face down some formidable challenges. Author and mental health advocate Matt Haig explains why we absolutely don’t need a “new year, new you”. 

There are few debates more universally divisive than those concerning the “new year, new me” mantra. For some, the chance to leave the past year far behind is a welcome occurrence (especially given the events of 2020). But for others, the idea of changing everything simply because the planet took one more trip around the sun feels rather odd.

Yes, the past year has been like nothing we’ve ever seen – but now we know we have the resilience to face 2021 head-on, as the fallout from coronavirus continues. The “old” us is, in fact, pretty damn great.

Matt Haig believes we need a serious rethink of the "new year, new you" mantra

Resolutions are a matter of personal preference, of course. But from a mental health angle, the idea of completely disregarding our previous selves and feeling the need to transform can be a damaging one. 

There’s definitely something to be said about using the start of a new year to establish new habits and reset some of our routines. But the commonly-accepted ideas that we need to lose weight, work harder or stop eating junk food to be a “better” version of ourselves can often be more harmful than good.

Basically, it’s okay to just continue being ourselves as the calendar ticks over: and that’s the message behind a new statement from author and mental health advocate Matt Haig, who took to Instagram this week to share his outlook on the “new year, new me” debate. 

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“You don’t need a new you,” the Instagram post, which at the time of writing has over 30,000 likes, began. “You don’t need replacing every year like another iPhone. Don’t throw yourself away like another piece of plastic trash. Love the old you.”

He continued: “Improve, evolve, do better, but head towards yourself not away. Be gentle with your mind.”

Besides the fact that the words are beautifully composed, the message behind the statement is incredibly important and refreshing – especially in a world where we’re often sold the idea that we aren’t good enough.

As Haig identifies, there is always room for self-improvement and development – but that doesn’t mean we need to punish ourselves for being “us”. In fact, some of the most important lessons we can learn come from the mistakes we’ve made and hardships we’ve endured in the past, so letting go of those and pretending they don’t exist can be detrimental in itself.

Instead of hating on the “old” version of ourselves – whether that be at work, at home or with our friends – we can use our experiences to develop and “evolve”, as Haig rightly points out.

New year, new me: we shouldn’t use the new year to criticise our past selves.
New year, new me: we shouldn’t use the new year to criticise our past selves

Journalist Poorna Bell previously echoed this sentiment in a piece for Stylist. 

“I’ve learned that I am at my most powerful when I take everything that has defined me – including the bad things – from the previous year and build on them,” she wrote. “We talk about standing in our full power as women, and to me, this is exactly the same. It’s impossible to operate from a place of power if you’re denying or ignoring the things that have shaped you.”

She added: “The problem with the concept of ‘new year, new you’ is that it doesn’t acknowledge everything that is good about who you already are as a person.”

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“Why it’s high time we ditched the concept of new year, new you”

This new year, instead of criticising yourself for all the decisions and things you did in the past, use the fresh start to sit back and reflect on all the good things in your life; and give yourself the boost and encouragement you need to make changes (if you want to). 

Set yourself realistic goals, be kind to yourself and nurture your talents – in 2021, we’re the same people that we’ve always been, and that’s 100% OK.

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Images: Getty

This article was originally published in January 2020.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s junior digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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