Today Is Officially 'Quitters Day.' Here's Why You Should Consider Quitting Too.

If you’re really set on picking a resolution, how about this one?
Pakin Songmor via Getty Images

It’s Quitters Day — the second Friday in January, when around 80% of Americans who made New Year’s resolutions have reportedly abandoned them. If you’re one of the 20% or so who haven’t yet ditched their goals, maybe it’s time to join the quitters. I have. Here’s why.

Experience better mental health

People often get caught up in an “I’ll be happy when I achieve this goal” mentality. The constant pursuit of goals can drive a perpetual cycle of unfulfilled expectations, which can create feelings of depression. Failure to make progress or achieve your goals can lead to burnout, anxiety, low self-esteem, negative self-talk and feelings of hopelessness.

Even the scant 6% who are still following through with their resolutions after a year can grapple with arrival fallacy, which Tal Ben-Shahar, a positive psychology expert, defines as the “illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.”

As a suicide survivor, a person who has struggled with mental health disorders for over 35 years, and a dedicated mental health advocate who has shared my story with millions, I have had thousands of conversations with people about their mental health. Too often I hear “My goals are giving me anxiety,” or “I’m failing at all my goals ― I feel worthless.”

I have yet to meet a person who actually told me that setting goals improved their mental health.

Pursue more unexpected opportunities

When we set a goal, like a New Year’s resolution, we generally focus on a specific outcome, which can lock us into a rigid framework that leaves out all kinds of possibilities and alternative desirable outcomes. The reality is that life is not linear or predictable. It’s more like quantum physics, where multiple realities and possibilities are before us at all times.

In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver was a chemist at 3M Company, which assigned him the goal of developing an adhesive so strong it could be used to build airplanes. At this, he was a massive failure. But he ended up creating a glue that could stick to many different surfaces, come off without damaging said surfaces, and be reused. The only problem was no one at 3M thought this was useful, because the company was so rigidly focused on its original goal.

Silver was reportedly dubbed “Mr. Persistent” because he refused to give up on his new adhesive. Finally, over a decade after his accidental invention, Post-it notes became a reality. Today, 3M manufactures more than 50 billion Post-it notes a year.

Imagine if Silver had given up because he didn’t achieve the specific goal that had been laid out for him. Too often, goals can lock us into a box where we are unable to explore the countless possibilities and opportunities before us at any given moment. Goals are often absolute and binary — they boil down to either “success” or “failure.” When we break free from specific goal setting, we can be more creative, flexible and curious, without a ceiling on what we can achieve or imagine for our lives.

The author sharing her story and donating books to the women at Metro Hope Ministries, an alcohol and drug recovery program in Minneapolis.
The author sharing her story and donating books to the women at Metro Hope Ministries, an alcohol and drug recovery program in Minneapolis.
Courtesy of Sonja Wasden

Let your values become your guide

Creating specific goals can lock in an outcome years in advance, and can keep us stuck in or pursuing something we might not even continue to want as we age and change and grow. Instead, being guided by our values allows our ideas of achievement to grow and change as we do, so that when we’re exerting energy and pouring time into accomplishing something, it’s something we really and truly want. None of us wants to achieve a goal just because we said a decade ago we would. None of us wants a tombstone that reads: Checked everything off her to-do list, even stuff she no longer cared about.

Values encourage us to focus on process, experience and inherent growth, and to savor the journey of life. A value-driven life can predict our overall well-being, happiness, and feelings of fulfillment and success. Values don’t require us to “achieve” them ― we embody them.

Five years ago, when my daughter and I wrote my memoir, I set the goal of making three major bestseller lists. Ultimately, the memoir did make it to Amazon’s bestseller list, but I failed at my goal of reaching two more. However, my book did make it into prisons, drug rehabilitation centers, homeless shelters and libraries, and into the hands of police officers, firefighters, veterans and people suffering with or trying to understand mental illness. The result is more compassion and more information — two things I value deeply.

Once I realized what I’d achieved, I began to see all the ways my book had succeeded — how I had succeeded — even though I’d failed to accomplish the specific goal I set all those years ago. The bestseller lists measure only one thing: how many copies of a book are sold. They don’t measure how many books are touching people’s lives, shaping policy or helping change the world. And these things are arguably much more meaningful.

I understand that goal setting is one of the most influential concepts in our society, something most of us are taught we must do if we want to succeed. Just type “goals” into Google and nearly 5.3 billion results come up, highlighting every area that we should consider addressing: relationship goals, career goals, physical goals, life goals and more. But that doesn’t mean it’s actually desirable, or even useful.

‘Goals Gone Wild’

Harvard’s 2009 “Goals Gone Wild” study found that “the beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored.”

The researchers found “specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.” And they contended that “managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision.”

The author (left) writing her memoir with her daughter Rachael.
The author (left) writing her memoir with her daughter Rachael.
Courtesy of Sonja Wasden

I’m not saying you shouldn’t aim high, be ambitious or chase your dreams. I am arguing that you should consider how you’re framing your desired outcome, how you approach it, and how you think about potential alternative outcomes, which, if they’re achieved in a goal-oriented framework, could end up looking and feeling like failure.

So, instead of setting the specific goal of being a CEO by 30, I’d recommend you focus on the value of achieving a rewarding professional career. Instead of setting a goal to become a hall-of-fame guitar player, focus on the value of enriching your life and others’ lives with your music. Instead of setting a goal of losing 10 pounds, focus on valuing your health by treating your body well and appreciating all it does for you.

Whether or not you set a resolution for yourself this year, and whether or not you’ve already given it up, I invite you to quit setting specific goals today — or any time in the future. Spend your time and energy exploring your desires and ambitions and all of the possibilities that await you, and see where that leads.

And if you’re really set on picking a resolution, how about this one: Let’s move away from focusing on narrow goal setting, and give ourselves room to experience success, fulfillment and pleasure in whatever forms — expected or not — we might create or find them.

If you or someone you know needs help, call or text 988 or chat for mental health support. Additionally, you can find local mental health and crisis resources at Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

Sonja Wasden is a suicide survivor with over 35 years of lived experience with mental health challenges. She is an author, keynote speaker and mental health advocate. Her memoir, “An Impossible Life,” is a bestseller and Eric Hoffer Grand Prize winner. In the course of her mental health advocacy work, Sonja has worked with drug addiction recovery programs, homeless shelters, firefighters, police officers, veterans, women’s prisons, students and more.

Oprah Winfrey graciously participated virtually in one of Sonja’s mental health book club discussions to inspire the women inmates at Central California Women’s Facility, the world’s largest women’s prison.

Sonja is a member of Newsweek Expert Forum and a TEDx speaker. She has been interviewed across all 50 states on local and national news, including “CBS This Morning,” about her personal struggles and triumphs with mental illness. Sonja has traveled the country speaking with Fortune 500 companies, not-for-profit organizations, government officials, advocacy groups and others about the importance of mental health. She has been an op-ed contributor in such publications and for such organizations as HuffPost, The Washington Post, The Hill, Ms., KevinMD, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Oprah Daily, and elsewhere.

She is passionate about helping individuals and organizations create open and inclusive conversations about mental health. Sonja has had the privilege of sharing her story and message of hope with millions of people. For more from her, visit

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