12 January 2013

New Year's Resolutions: Why I Don't Make Them

by Elizabeth Zelvin

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. 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. Do you consider it odd and irrelevant that I'm still talking about New Year's resolutions on January 12? I rest my case.
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 looked around me and said, “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. On January 2, I did the same thing.

And this morning, I did it again.

Note: I posted just about all of the above last New Year’s, but SleuthSayers was just getting started then, and I’m counting on most of this year’s readers not to have seen it before—and the rest to be old enough that they’ve forgotten it in the interim. My opinion about resolutions has not changed at all in the past year.


Fran Rizer said...

Liz, your post makes me feel young! Because. . . I remembered it.

Dixon Hill said...

Gotta say I pretty much agree with you, Elizabeth.

While I do enjoy bringing a good long-term plan to fruition, I'm not into New Year's Resolutions at all. I see the latter as too often "wishful thinking" without the heavy lifting (logistical and technical prep work) that would be required to engineer success.

Nice post. (And, count me among the Geezer Patrol, 'cause I didn't spot it as a rerun until you let the cat out of the bag.)


Eve Fisher said...

I'm with you on this one, Elizabeth: New Year's resolutions are just premeditated resentments.

Jeff Baker said...

I agree too! I rarely make New Year's Resolutions, but I am a compulsive maker of "to do lists," and I have been known to label the lists in the last week of December "New Year's Resolutions." I'll say here what I said a year ago: Happy New Year!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Eve, the way I've heard it is that expectations are premeditated resentments, but I think we're on the same page. :)

Eve Fisher said...

We are, Elizabeth - I just see New York resolutions as another version of expectations. :)