Did you make New Year’s Resolutions? According to a 2011 Marist University Poll, only 44% of adult Americans did. Personally, I agree with the 56% who didn’t; I’m not much on resolutions myself. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever made a New Year’s Resolution I actually kept. If I did, I don’t remember. Do you remember the resolutions you made last year or in prior years? Do you remember keeping any?
It’s not that I’m against self-improvement. Quite to the contrary, I believe we all need to strive to make changes for the better, big and small. The first of every year does represent something of a symbolic beginning, which is probably why making New Year's Resolutions is a time-honored tradition. It speaks to our inner hopes and wishes for a life lived better. In essence, it’s a time to turn over a new leaf. But in my mind it is not the best, and certainly not the only, time for making changes.
I see two problems with making New Year's Resolutions.
One is that they are often unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves, in which case we are only setting ourselves up for failure. That same Marist poll says that only 60% of those who made resolutions were able to keep them for half the year. And no doubt the success rate by the end of the year would be dismal. How much better to set expectations for ourselves that are not only important to us, but also realistic and therefore achievable?
A second problem is the anniversary nature of New Year's Resolutions. We make them because it is January 1, not because we have identified something in ourselves we genuinely wish were different and we want to work to change.
Instead, I see self-improvement as a year-round activity.
There are many times during the year when we recognize something about ourselves that we would like to try to change. It may be a trait we have, the way we live, the way we work, the way we relate to other people and so forth. The time to decide to do something about it is when the observation occurs to us – strike while the topic is hot – and not put it off until next January 1. Think of these occasions as opportunities to make a change rather than a time to be saddled with the burden of "resolution".
The best way to create realistic opportunities to better yourself is to focus on the areas of your life you can manage and control. Grand gestures may seem the way to go at the start, but will be hard to fulfill. Look for smaller, incremental actions where it is possible to find success. If you can’t accomplish it on one day, you will have the opportunity to try again.
For example, you may want to spend more time with your family and less time online. But in this day and age, and in your particular circumstance, it may be a daily challenge. If you find that limiting your online time is more difficult than you anticipated, try taking it in smaller steps – a half hour rather than an hour – and keep trying.
At Silver Hill, we teach our patients to be less harsh on themselves, to be more respectful of their own good efforts, without such stringent expectations. To understand that what some people call a failure is really just an opportunity to start again. The important opportunity in this kind of "opportunity" is that it allows you to keep trying.
So in this the New Year if you must make a resolution I encourage you to resolve to look year round for the opportunities to lead a better life – and I wish you each much success.
We look forward to your comments on this and all Silver Hill Hospital posts.
Silver Hill Hospital’s blog is intended only to provide information; it is not intended to provide diagnosis or treatment. If this is an emergency, please call 911.
Editor's note: Patch Blogger Andrea Cragin has some similar thoughts in her blog post: ""