Featured Image: Abbey Lossing
I’ve always loved celebrating the New Year. On December 31st, we’d feast as we waited for the clock to strike midnight, and I’d look up to the sky to admire the fireworks, despite harboring deep resentment for loud noises. In pre-pandemic times, my village hosted dinner parties, which were the only times I got to mingle with my same-aged neighbors through competitive card games, good food, and once “illegal” sips of alcohol.
The adrenaline understandably weaned past midnight, but I’ve always felt a momentary sense of comfort and joy when I embraced the first day of the year. As we enter the third year of this pandemic, with a new variant threatening to take away the already meager progress my country has made to combat the crisis, hanging onto new beginnings and celebrating the New Year feel more and more foolish. After all, why would a new year matter if we’re stuck with the same old stuff? Can we even feel a significant shift in time when COVID-19 has us locked away in our homes?
Even with this growing bleakness, I can’t help but feel a sense of optimism at the fresh start a new year promises. As naive as it may seem, the new year still provides the impression of a clean slate for many people, myself included, and if the law of attraction is anything to go by, all we have to do is believe hard enough. Despite all signs pointing to failure mid-way, people are still big believers in becoming newer, better versions of themselves during the new year. The “fresh start effect” explains this phenomenon pretty well: human beings tend to get more motivated to do certain things during or after special dates and occasions. That’s why we set big goals and agendas at the start of the year instead of, say, May, why we expect ourselves and others to be a year wiser as we celebrate our birthdays, and on a smaller scale, why we wait for 9:00 instead of starting work at 8:38 AM. Special signs and times urge us to do special things, and while it’s clear that we don’t always stick to our new year resolutions, outlining how we want the incoming year to look fills us with motivation, even if this tends to fizzle out.
On resolutions and rebrands
Since 2019, I’ve been listing my resolutions like I was writing Christmas wishlists with how many goals I’d jot down. I’d meticulously categorize everything I wanted to do for the year according to the different aspects of my life. Much of my goals would be geared towards writing and professional endeavors, along with working towards better media consumption and learning outside the classroom. As 2021 came to a close, I reflected on the resolutions I’ve made for the year and realized that I accomplished half of them. Not bad and even better than expected, but reviewing them made me go face-to-face with shortcomings I knew I could’ve avoided if I managed my time better. While I and many others know that new year’s resolutions fail for a wide variety of (completely human!) reasons, I can’t help but want to be an exception. And if the rising trend of the 2022 rebrand is anything to go by, many people, especially fellow young women, seem to feel the same way.
Understandably, some people have grown tired of the idea of new year’s resolutions because of how often they fail, but this doesn’t stop them from wanting self-improvement. Hence, people have tried to give different names to the same concept, with the most recent one being the 2022 rebrand trend growing on TikTok. Videos on the platform highlight habit trackers, daily routines, and long, clustered lists of goals/resolutions (like my own!) plastered on pretty gradient backgrounds. At first glance, this phenomenon looks more forgiving than new year’s resolutions, as the usual agendas for 2022 rebrands involve messages of self-care, acceptance, body neutrality, and cleansing in all aspects of the term. For example, a typical new year’s resolution for body image is to lose weight, while a bullet point for a 2022 rebrand poster tells you to remember to eat healthily and work out in ways you enjoy. Take a closer look, though, and you’ll likely realize that the philosophy behind the 2022 rebrand is far more unattainable than new year’s resolutions. 2022 rebrands hope to be holistic, encompassing the mind, body, health, and career, which often leads to the tendency to make plans far too elaborate to sustain.
Furthermore, prominent examples of 2022 rebrands thrive off of consumerism — some videos promote expensive products geared towards better romanticizing the overhaul of one’s lifestyle. Given how the good majority of people often stop sticking to resolutions and now, rebrands by February, a former attempt at self-improvement becomes yet another exhibition of modern-day capitalism, like many pursuits of personal growth. People have held countless conversations surrounding wellness culture and its elitism and detriments, and the common verdict is that we ought to find better, more forgiving, and more inclusive ways of working on ourselves.
(Un)becoming “that girl”
While we attach the aforementioned trend to 2022 and new year preparations, the 2022 rebrand can be traced back to something much broader: the “that girl” lifestyle. Ask who “that girl” is, and you’ll get a splitting image of a conventionally attractive and slender woman who does pilates workouts daily, writes in her gratitude journal every morning, wakes up at 5 AM, maintains a 10-step skincare routine, and somehow genuinely loves drinking green juices and cucumber water. “That girl” glows inside and out, and everyone wants to be just like her. And unless you’re delusional or superhuman, you can probably already tell that this “dream lifestyle” is exactly what it sounds like: a dream. The “that girl” lifestyle seems undeniably admirable at first, as it prides itself in aesthetically pleasing and Instagrammable exhibitions of self-control and growth.
As easy as it may be, there is no use in mocking its premise and believers, because who wouldn’t want to be working towards their best self? Lifestyle influencers seem to pull it off just fine, and we’re made to believe that we’re simply a product or an extra dose of discipline away from experiencing the same success. One can try to dismiss criticizing sentiments towards the “that girl” routine as an excuse to procrastinate or the state of not wanting growth “enough,” but this won’t change the fact that this lifestyle is bound to be unsustainable and robotic. As cliche as it sounds, we’re bound for failure every once in a while despite our best efforts. The “that girl” trend (not-so-)subtly tells us otherwise and is thereby a carefully disguised manifestation of one of society’s greatest ills: hustle culture.
A tussle with hustle culture
According to this lifestyle, the idea of a 2022 rebrand, and hustle culture at large, we can attain perfection if we try hard enough, external circumstances and burnout be damned. There’s this aching need to “rise and grind” in hopes of becoming a cut above the rest for “maximizing productivity” when we’re just working ourselves to the bone. Even in lifestyle overhauls that allegedly promote health and wellness, we find that these things get exhausting easily. How can we fit in our studies, work, exercise, self-care routines, and personal hobbies, among other things daily? Time goes by more quickly than we think, and whether we like it or not, we can’t be productive all the time.
All this could not be truer amidst the pandemic we face (I’m tired of this phrase too!), and because of our current circumstances, hustle culture becomes a larger threat to our inner peace and mental well-being. We echo messages of “no pain, no gain,” “hard work pays off,” “put your best foot forward,” and “never stay satisfied for long,” striving for perfection or anything close, while we watch our world go from bad to worse. I’m inclined to believe that this line of thinking may be an escapist tendency we employ because why would we need to scare ourselves about the end of the world when we can simply keep working, business as usual?
As the world continues to deteriorate, we’re bound to start feeling powerless. When this happens, we’ll crave control, and where else can we assert the most control if not our personal lives? Perhaps this is exactly why resolutions, the “that girl” lifestyle, the 2022 rebrand, and pursuits of personal growth still have their appeal, despite their unattainable and punitive nature. Even as the flaws of self-improvement culture are front and center, it’s human nature to want to rise above and against the odds. Working on personal growth is far from a bad thing. It’s something worth thinking about, but we need to figure out ways to do all this without falling into commodification, burnout, or significant harm.
On my Google document for my 2022 resolutions, I decided to write down “commit less” in bold, which entails a hard stop at extracurricular activities by 10 P.M., the need to set a limit to how many things I can sign up or volunteer for every month, and the ominous but hopefully effective message of quitting what needs to be quit. Above all else, committing less reflects my decision to keep striving for better while establishing a quality filter for the sake of boundaries and organization. When it comes to personal growth and self-improvement, it’s far too easy to fall into either extreme. Of course, too much vagueness will ultimately hinder you from getting to where you want to be — that’s why we’re told to set SMART goals in the first place. On the flip side, focus too much on specificity and measurable numbers, and you’ll be well on your way to feeling like a failure when you don’t meet your sky-high standards.
Practicing self-forgiveness in the pursuit of personal growth is necessary, contrary to capitalistic mindsets telling you that you might not want something enough if you eventually give up. Quitting and taking breaks are not signs of weakness. Rather, they’re testaments to your self-awareness and resilience. Seth Godin’s The Dip says it best: “Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.” Committing less and Godin’s idea of strategic quitting can mean whatever you want it to mean — perhaps you can consider setting fewer resolutions, prioritizing the parts of your life you want to improve most. Though, if you’re as indecisive as I am, look towards broader goals and agendas that have more than one way of being achieved.
This sounds like a hard pill to swallow, especially amidst the hype of SMART goals and the need for specificity, but marketing professor Baba Shiv makes quite the convincing case that vague goals can lead to more progress in new year’s resolutions since the necessary motivation is present regardless. In Shiv’s words, “with innovation, you have to be highly motivated because you’re dealing with uncertainty.” What’s the purpose of so much specificity when our lives are meant to be spontaneous? Once we spend less time fixating on picture-perfect daily routines to emulate and craving numerical validation to measure our progress like it’s supposed to be linear, maybe, just maybe, we’ll have more space to reflect on what truly matters to us and grow from there.