The Real Reason Your New Year's Resolution Will Fail
In January, a gajillion Americans make the same resolutions, and by July, according to one study, only 46 percent are still sticking to them. Clearly, something is wrong—and if you ask me, it’s not the people, but the promises. Maybe when we “fail” to keep a resolution, it’s because deep down we know it doesn’t necessarily align with our truth.
Recently, I pulled out my list of resolutions from last year (which, of course, is almost exactly the same list I made for 1987) and contemplated it from a new perspective—that of a jaded crone. I asked myself, "Do these goals resonate with me? Are they really what I want most in the entire world?"
And you know what the answer was? No. So I thought about how I actually want to spend the next 12 months. Then I made brand-new resolutions:
1. Gain weight.
How much did Florence Nightingale weigh when she founded modern nursing? How much did Rosa Parks weigh when she took her seat on that Alabama bus? How much did Malala Yousafzai weigh when she started writing about the lives of girls in Pakistan under Taliban rule? You don’t know? That’s the right answer! Because it doesn’t matter.
For so many people, January 2 is D day—diet day, that is. Losing weight can be a laudable goal, but this year I’m going to think about weightier matters—weightyas in “of great importance,” a definition that does not apply to dress size. I have found that I feel instantly lighter when I stop asking "Why are my thighs so squidgy?" and start asking "What would really make me happy right now?" Whenever body shame creeps up on me, I resolve to refocus on adding meaning to my life.
2. Spend more.
Saving is a virtue. But when frugality becomes extreme, it can create feelings of deprivation—which can lead to compulsive buying. I’m going to avoid the cycle of consumption by paying more. Not more money, but more positive attention to what I have.
That’s what author Glennon Doyle did after she posted a photo of her kitchen on her blog and readers chimed in with unsolicited decluttering and remodeling advice. Suddenly, Glennon found her cabinets and counters shabby—but instead of overhauling the room, she decided to redo her attitude. She praised the things her kitchen gives her, like cooked food and clean tap water. Under a photo of her fridge, she wrote, “This thing MAGICALLY MAKES FOOD COLD.” It’s energizing to be around someone who heaps positive attention on what she already has. Do it yourself and you’ll feel rich.
3. Make messes.
I grew up in a topsy-turvy household, and as an adult, I’ve struggled to master basic skills like cleaning, managing finances, and remembering my kids’ names. If you’re likewise genetically disorganized, you may feel as unfit as I often do. But you may also be ignoring something that I noticed about myself: My inability to follow routines and put stuff into boxes also means I tend to combine ideas in unusual ways and come up with unconventional solutions. As a life coach, I get paid to do this—and for me, the job requires disorganization. In fact, just now I’m sitting in a nest of pens, teacups, papers, and pillows, resolving to embrace the chaos.
4. Be self-involved.
Many people vow to be more attentive to relationships—less irritable with their kids, kinder to coworkers. But relationships are fluid, and we can’t dictate how we’ll feel as they evolve. This year I’m going to be more attentive to me.
If your parents ever forced you to kiss scary Aunt Mabel with the braided chin hairs, you know that trying to force love actually destroys it. This year take a moment every so often to check in with yourself about how you’re really feeling, and let your actions match your truth. Share with people who feel welcoming. Distance yourself from the ones you don’t trust. Peacefully explain your opinion to those who anger you. You may ruffle some feathers, but in the long term, your life will be more genuinely loving.
5. Forget what I've learned.
The ancient Chinese Tao Te Ching taught me that to attain knowledge, every day you must learn something, and to attain wisdom, every day you must unlearn something. A deep intelligence lies within us, and wisdom comes from releasing misperceptions that cloud it. So this year I resolve to unlearn. I’ve noticed that when I scrutinize thoughts that create negative feelings—for instance, I never do anything right—they fall apart. (I do a lot of things right!) I pledge to steer my brain toward truer stories, until it develops new, less paralyzing thought patterns. Lesson unlearned.
That’s my list. I encourage you to compile your own. You may want to underachieve. Oversleep. Fritter away more of your days. When December rolls around, you may find you’ve finally kept your resolutions—and that 2023 really was a happy new year.
Martha Beck is a sociologist, life coach, speaker and the author of several best-selling books, including Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening.
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