Upon a new year, people like to set New Year’s resolutions, especially when it comes to their physical appearance. However, is setting goals for our physical appearance potentially toxic? Provided that we don’t accomplish them, how could this affect our mental state and self-esteem? In this blog, we will chat about how setting goals for our physical appearance can impact us, and how goal setting or New Year’s Resolutions can be a powerful tool for self-acceptance rather than self-denigration.
First of all, New Year's resolutions tend to have a broad focus, and truly accomplishing them requires long-term behavioral changes (Hochli; Brugger 2019). New Year’s Resolutions are a quintessential example of superordinate goals. Superordinate goals are long-term goals, and they conceptualize the ideal self. They also reveal the goal setter’s values. However, striving towards and rooting one’s values within idealism have proven to be very problematic. For example, a superordinate goal and its conflicts are shown by the following statement:
“In 2022, I will have clear skin.”
This statement implies that the goal setter does not have clear skin, and they see unclear skin as unsatisfactory. The statement also implies that the goal setter sees a need to change. When people experience a sense of inadequacy or status quo about their current situation, these perceptions are often signaled by societal expectations (Hochli, Brogger. 2019). Consequently, if the goal-setter cannot achieve the superordinate goal of having clear skin, they feel as if they have not done enough and should continue their goal pursuit even if the goal is not feasible (Hochli; Brugger 2019). Thus, superordinate goals, especially when they cannot be sustained over long periods or lack direction, can lead to poor self-image and a lessened sense of belonging.
That’s why studies suggest that “subordinate” goals should be an integral part of resolutions. “Goal-setting theory states that challenging, specific, and concrete goals (i.e., subordinate goals) are powerful motivators and boost performance in goal pursuit more than vague or abstract goals (i.e., superordinate goals). Goal-setting theory predominantly focuses on single, short-term goals and less on broad, long-term challenges ” (Hochli, Brogger. 2019)
For example, the subordinate goal, “go to yoga classes on Thursday at 4:00 p.m.” or “walk 45 minutes on Wednesday afternoon” could help achieve the superordinate goal of “getting down to a size 10 in the year 2022” (Hochli, Brogger. 2019). While getting down to a size 10 is a part of the idealized self, subordinate goals like exercising at a specific time explain specific, concrete steps that give the goal setter directions. Given their specificity, subordinate goals allow us to explore the reality of our current situation rather than the ideal situation. To provide another illustration, assume someone set a goal to have clear skin. They might set the following subordinate goals:
I will stop wearing makeup every day
I will wash my face every night before bed.
I will wear sunscreen every day.
I will hydrate my skin with hyaluronic acid twice a day.
As one can see, by writing out specific goals, the goal setter can assess whether the goal is feasible, whether it is something to be sustained long-term, or whether the behavior is even to their liking. Enjoying and liking what you’re doing is an important part of achieving goals and even building self-image. Furthermore, subordinate goals compromise with and acknowledge the present self and do not disregard its limits. Therefore, before you create your New Year’s Resolutions or superordinate goals, map out specific steps and think about whether these steps are really aligned with your life and who you are. Because if they are solely aligned with what society and others want, the superordinate or ultimate goal is less likely to be rooted in reality and the true self.
At the end of the day, you are beautiful, and goals should never imply otherwise.
Brugger, Adrian. Hochli, Bettina. Messner, Claude.”How Focusing on Superordinate Goals
Motivates, Broad, Long-term Goal Pursuit: A Theoretical Perspective.” Frontier in Psychology. 2018.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6176065/. December 2021.