Why We Love/Loathe New Year’s Resolutions

Hello, 2014. I see you peeking around the corner, waiting to enter the room. Come on in. Sit a spell. 2013 was just leaving.

There’s something about the blank pages of a brand-new calendar that inspires many of us to commit to change. Raise your hand if you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution:

  •  I will join a gym – and show up there three times a week.
  • I will quit eating gluten, sugar and dairy. 
  • I will watch less T.V.
  • I will volunteer in my community.
  • I will go back to school.
  • I will pay off my credit cards.
  • I will skydive. Walk the Appalachian trail. Learn to tap dance. 

We hear that most of our resolutions are doomed to fail. If we’re given to making these sorts of vows to ourselves, we tell ourselves that we’re going to beat the odds this year.

Think about it. Behind just about every resolution is a regret. I wonder if those big promises we make to ourselves are often doomed to failure because they are an emotional reaction to a poor choice (or a string of `em) we’ve made in the past. For example, right now I’m lugging around some extra weight because I didn’t take very good care of myself by going for daily walks during the fall when I was hunched over the computer working on my book. No small irony that the book is all about regret. It is sorely tempting now that the Christmas cookie season is over to pledge my troth to multiple make-up exercise sessions, while swearing off all stress eating and cooling my relationship with my good friends, the carb family, in the process. But the reason for what appeared to be either sloth or lousy time management was really a chronic case of low-level anxiety. I worried often that I wouldn’t finish the manuscript on time. I had a shorter-than-usual window in which to finish this project so I put my head down and wrote and wrote and wrote, chasing myself to the deadline. I am proud of the book, and have gotten some encouraging early feedback from my guinea pig readers and my editor.

When I do a bit of analysis about some of those “I should lose weight and/or exercise” vows I feel bubbling under my skin at this time of year, I realize that those promises to myself won’t fix the reason for those extra pounds. Allowing God to deal with me about the reasons I allowed anxiety to trump self-care in this area of my life may net the change a willpower-themed resolution list can’t. This isn’t the case for every resolution of course. Some of us need to set a goal and then work toward it. While change might happen because we’ve finally hit the “Fed Up” red line on our internal shame gauge, we stand the best chance of healthy change if we can get a glimpse at why we’ve ended up in need of a resolution in the first place.    

What do you think? Do goal-setting resolutions work for you, or do you think it is more helpful to consider why you’re feeling the need for a particular resolution in the first place? Got a resolution story that’s been a great success for you? I’d love to hear it!  


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  • Regarding the Christmas cookie weight, can I commend Anne Lamott’s most recent Facebook status update as must-reading? I can’t figure out how to link to it from here, but if you look her up on FB, it’s the entry from this week which begins “we need to talk”. SO good!

    • Michelle Van Loon

      Bronwyn, that post was AMAZING! Thanks for pointing me in that direction. (For any who want to read it, it’s public on Anne’s page https://www.facebook.com/AnneLamott and is dated 12/27.) I think Anne is just generally amazing anyway, and her words are classic, recalibrating Anne at her finest. 🙂

      Having an awakening instead of starting (and failing) a diet is what I’m shooting for this year.

      • So glad you found it! It was SOUL food, mental floss, be holding-myself-in-the-mirror type of reading. Thanks for finding the link!

  • I don’t really make resolutions because I have found that when I have to do something, even if it is something I picked for myself I no longer want to do it. So I make a plan that I am completely allowed to break if it isn’t working. My plan this year is to be more intentional about putting my reading into practice. So I am limiting myself to one book purchase a month and focusing on things I have already read, but didn’t do anything about. If I find to accomplish the main goal (put reading into practice) my strategy isn’t working I will bail. For me it is a system that seems to work better than standard resolution.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      Adam, it sounds like you’ve given yourself grace to step into change without becoming a slave to your goals. I like it! 🙂

  • Nancy Radler

    I have always made it a point to not make resolutions. That way I won’t break them 2 hours into the New Year. It’s worked perfectly for 54 years. Seriously though, the idea of setting goals for yourself only at the beginning of the year seems counter productive. I try to set goals each day. That way, if I fail to achieve it at the end of the day, I can wake up the next morning and start all over again. It is like continual renewal and cuts way down on the frustration and general negativity.

  • Tim

    Love this line, Michelle: “Behind just about every resolution is a regret” So true! I’m not a resolver http://timfall.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/new-years-resolution-ive-given-up-running-on-pine-cones-2/ but I do like the fact that any shortcomings I have are made up completely in Christ and his work.No regrets there!

    A blessed New Year to you and the family,