New Year's Resolutions: Useful Tool or Useless Custom?

For our December staff newsletter, we asked our employees to send in their New Year’s Resolutions. Our Training Supervisor, Deborah May, sent in this essay on the cultural phenomenon.

In our culture, January 1 is more than a random date on our annual calendar. January 1 is the day when we officially end our grace period of holiday indulgence and begin our determined quest for self-improvement.  Join the gym. Eat three vegetables daily. No more cigarettes. Stick to our new budget.  When January 1 beckons, we transform into the most demanding taskmasters of our lives. Because this time, we shall be disciplined and stoic. We will not fail. The past will not determine our future. We can do it!

However, if we really wanted to change these behaviors, we would simply change them – today. Or at least set into motion a realistic plan of achievable action – today. There is no reason to wait until January 1 to begin doing what we really want to do. New Year resolutions are rarely about what we really want to do, but rather what we believe we should do to become happier, healthier, wealthier, more productive, more responsible, etc.

Successful marathon runners want to run. Healthier people want to eat more vegetables. Parents who listen to their children want to close their laptop when their children are talking to them. It is when we are ambivalent about making a behavioral change that we are not yet ready to make that change.

· Yes, I want to spend more time talking to my children, but I love to spend my leisure time surfing the web.  I should spend more time talking with my children, but I want to have more fun time alone.

·  Yes, I want to be slender, but I love chocolate ice cream. I should lose weight, but I want to eat ice cream every day.

·  Yes, I want to stop smoking, but I love to relax with a good smoke. I should quit smoking, but I want to smoke whenever I feel stressed out.

January 1 is an artificially imposed cultural moment for committing to changes that we believe we should change. But most of us don’t really want to change just because the date is the first of January. That is why nearly all New Year resolutions fail within a few months. Unfortunately, we will blame ourselves for not succeeding in changing the behavior we convinced ourselves we were ready to change. Our self-esteem is likely to suffer another bruising by voluntarily
participating in the annual ritual. Only a tiny percentage of resolution makers will succeed, because they really wanted to make the change very close to the time that New Year’s Day happened to roll around again.

In conclusion, I am suggesting that New Year self-improvement resolutions are unlikely to provide us with what we most need, today and in the coming new year. Peace of mind. Self-acceptance. To love and be loved for who we are – exactly as we are, no improvements necessary – today.


2 Responses to “New Year's Resolutions: Useful Tool or Useless Custom?”

  1. Joann Valentin-Alvarez says:

    Hi Deborah!
    WOW! This was written very well and captures the culture and the imposed expectations on one to have a resolution, perfectly! I was asked by my husband what my resolution was and when I replied that I didn’t have one, he seemed confused. I don’t have one because I am accomplishing all I set out to do. I spend more time with enjoying my children, I have a job I like, I opened a savings account, I am graduating college in May and I have stopped putting everyone and everything before myself and I feel content in my life-TODAY. So I was very moved by your essay and I wish more people could read it. It will inspire them to change what they can and love themselves the way they are…Beautifully, humanly flawed. Thank you for a great and inspiring read!

  2. Deborah May says:

    Thank you for your feedback, Joann. I’m glad it was inspiring to you! Best, Deborah