31 December 2011

Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

by Elizabeth Zelvin

I write about some variant of this topic every year at around this time, but no matter how many times I say it, a lot of people still don’t believe it. I keep saying it, thinking that this time they’ll get it.
And they keep asking: “Really! You really don’t make New Year’s resolutions? How can you not make New Year’s resolutions? But you must make New Year’s resolutions!” They think that if they ask again, maybe this time my answer will change. And that’s the resolution process in a nutshell.

It’s not as if the millions of people who faithfully list the elements of the fresh start they’re going to make, come January 1, are actually going to keep these resolutions. Year after year’s experience belies their ability to maintain the changes they’ve resolved to make. Take dieting. Americans value being thin more than any other physical characteristic. As a nation, we enjoy greater abundance than anywhere else on earth. Our holidays, our advertising, even our blogs extol the joys of good food. Our health professionals tell us that life-threatening obesity is endemic among us. They also advise physical fitness as a way to ensure good health and promote long life, and a billion-dollar industry has grown up to sell us products and services to enhance our fitness. (Remember when walking and running and climbing stairs used to be free?)

To resolve these chronic contradictions, people diet. On New Year’s Day, they declare, “This year, I’m going to stay away from junk food. I’m going to eat fewer desserts and more vegetables.”
The erosion may set in as early as the neighbors’ New Year’s brunch, at which the pastries look sooo delicious…. If not, a bare six weeks or so away is Valentine’s Day, which can’t be celebrated without chocolate…. If we really expected to make permanent changes in our eating habits, why would we launch them as part of a ritual that we celebrate every single year?

But the fact that resolutions tend not to work in any lasting way is not the only reason I avoid them. As a shrink and as a person old enough to have amassed some life experience, I’ve come to believe that planning for a year is neither an effective nor an emotionally healthy way to live my life.
You know the common expression about seeing no light at the end of the tunnel? Mental health professionals call it projection. We give ourselves a lot of agita anticipating scary things that never happen. A popular acronym for fear is “future events already ruined.” How can we avoid the stress, anxiety, and dread that can feel overwhelming at times? By not looking down the tunnel. Some folks may dismiss “one day at a time” as psychobabble, but it actually makes life a lot more manageable. So on January 1, I’m going to look around me and say, “What a beautiful day—I wonder what I’ll do with it?” And then I’ll do my best to fill my waking hours with as much pleasure, productivity, and love as I can manage. And on January 2, I’ll do it again.


  1. Liz, I make New Year's resolutions every day. I resolve to meet each day with as much joy and love in my life as possible. Perhaps you and I are more alike than different. A toast to a happy and prosperous 2012 from one outrageous older woman to another.

  2. I'm with you, Elizabeth! Don't forget the Mardi Gras season, too, that starts on January 7th and carrys right through to Ash Wednesday.

    I've always been big for long-term planning, but I've tried not to make it at the expense of the day I'm actually living..not always successful, however. Still, it's a worthy goal.

    Happy New Year to everyone at SleuthSayers! I hope it's a healthy, productive, and prosperous one for all.

  3. I thought I was alone in not making New Year's resolutions. Like Fran, I just try to greet each day with as much joy and love as possible.

    Happy New Year to you all.

  4. I make "to-do" lists, and I do that all year 'round! So, all the best to all of you folks in the coming year and always!


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