Kierkegaard wrote: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” We live forward. That is in part why we are driven in the New Year to make resolutions about how we want to move forward in our lives.
We start every New Year with a clean slate. New Year”s resolutions remind me of beginning a new notebook at the start of the school year. Each year the notebook was spotless, and I was determined that it would be perfect. But within a few pages, the notes were getting sloppy and soon doodles were decorating the margins of those pages.
Still, despite our tendency to doodle, we all want to get rid of old nasty habits and really make the changes we want to see in our lives. The lure of making New Year Resolutions, making a ‘fresh start’ is hard to resist and is often pandered to by self-help gurus. Yet, the truth is that making resolutions may be the wrong way to change habits that are life-long and ingrained.
According to Psychology Today, approximately 41% of people make New Year resolutions. The list of resolutions is as daunting as the holiday shopping list and include:
- Weight loss
- Decrease use of alcohol
- Balance work – work less
- Stop smoking
- Pay off credit card debts
- Career related goals
This study, as well as others, indicates that the vast majority of those who make resolutions fail to stick to their goals within a short time, months or weeks. As a matter of fact, not being able to keep your new goals shortly after the holiday season can throw you into a slump or even increase your anxiety. There are entire industries that count on the expectation to bring change to one”s life and then fail to do so.
According to a New York Times article, “Our collective failure to keep our resolutions represents an annuity of sorts for health clubs, weight-loss centers and other enterprises that make up what you might call the self-improvement industry. It’s an industry that thrives on our failure to change: recidivism is good for the bottom line.”
But the idea of self-transformation is as American as apple pie. We love to reinvent ourselves. Often just making a resolution makes us feel better. However, words themselves will not magically transform our lives. Real transformation requires hard, often grueling work, sacrifice and perseverance.
A better idea than making grand and abstract resolutions is to think of small, specific goals you can accomplish. Things you can do on a daily basis. The American Psychological Association offers these tips for helping you when thinking about New Year’s resolutions:
- Start Small – make goals you can keep
- Change one behavior at a time – if we try to change too much at once we get overwhelmed
- Talk about it – share your struggles, join a support group
- Don’t beat yourself up – perfection is unattainable. Missteps are normal.
- Ask for support – if you feel overwhelmed, seek professional support.
Notebook Photo by: Ed Donahue