Resolution or Rhetoric?

Keeping the promises you make to yourself. Or are resolutions just plain bad for you?

My New Year’s Resolution Failures

This year I will express more gratitude, with no expectations of follow-through.

For the last 2 years I’ve written a post dedicated to the passage of another year. Two years ago I wrote about an empirically-based model for holistic health (found here). Last year, I wrote about acceptance, letting go, and turning inward (found here). And to be honest, in re-reading my previous reflections, I’m not particularly impressed with where I’ve landed this year. If anything, it might even be disappointing.

I was surprised by own words from only a year ago as they seemed to come from a wiser more composed version of myself. Have I regressed over the last year only to lose perspective and wisdom? Have my writing skills also gone down the drain with it? Is this why people don’t even bother with New Year’s resolutions, figuring the failure will only make them feel worse? Perhaps, but I can’t help but wonder if the lesson lies in the reminder.

Truth be told, I’m still self-absorbed, can’t deal with social rejection, and have difficulty accepting circumstances I can’t change. This is essentially what I wrote about last year and still find myself faced with these same growth edges. And yet, I can’t help but wonder if I went about it the wrong way. Or if simply I need to remind myself of these facts on more than just an annual basis. We all know that change happens over time. Sustained change is a process, because as any crash dieter has known, the more extreme and sudden the changes, the less sustainable it may be.

What then is the solution for creating lasting personal change? Some of it might involve drastic change and others may involve subtle shifts. Let’s take for example my self-absorbed situation. Allow me to illustrate what I mean when I say self-absorbed. This summer I completed the final leg of my 10-year journey and life dream to become a clinical psychologist. Somehow throughout the process I had deluded myself into thinking that upon completion of this amazing benchmark that all would be rainbows and butterflies. When things didn’t quite work out in this fashion, I pretty much had a meltdown.

Yes, some of it was a long time coming. Years of jumping through hoops, 3 years of moving on an annual cycle for training placements, leaving behind friends, family, I finally reached a breaking point. Although I had so much to be grateful for, I was angry. Actually, to be more accurate, entitled and angry. Like many millennials I expect and demand a lot. And if I put in the work, then I’m entitled to having it work out in exactly the way I want it, when I want it. Herein lies my Achilles heel.

Newsflash, it’s not all about me. And although intellectually I understand this, have I truly internalized this message? Lecture upon lecture delivered to me by my parents about individuals whose struggles were far worse than mine were only cause for more frustration on my end. What about my struggles, I kept asking. But the better question was: what was up with my mental roadblock that kept me from understanding I was being incredibly self-absorbed about it all? Perhaps I was a product of my environment. Having spent a good deal of time in the ivory tower, I’d lost touch with reality. However, we are the ones who chose whether or not to let these environments pervade our mentality. Maybe it was the fact that over the decade I’d insisted that every small setback or inconvenience would be “worth it in the end.” It still didn’t erase the situation nor my reactions to it.

So what to do about this personal shortcoming? Step one: change the environment. Much as we might tell clients who are dealing with alcoholism to change their social scene (i.e., the bar) to curb temptations, a similar tactic can be done characterologically. Self-absorbed? Stop hanging around entitled stuck up people. Or better yet, immerse yourself in a reality check experiment. Too often we stay stuck in the same cycle by not stepping out of our immediate circle. What would it be like to befriend someone who views the world in a way drastically different from the way you do? Or what would it be like to volunteer to help the less fortunate? The trick though may lie in frequency. Don’t volunteer once in January to check it off your list. Make it a regular commitment. Don’t just befriend one new person. Engage with new groups, social scenes and communities.

Much as there are active means of personal growth, there are also the much more subtle but perhaps even more powerful shifts that involve perspective. If I had to go back and redo my resolutions from last year, although my intentions would be the same, I’d phrase it differently. I’d vow to express more gratitude and to lower my expectations. I’d be grateful for all that I have instead of bemoaning what I don’t. Because in truth there is so much to be grateful for that we don’t even see it. But it can be easy to get caught up in complaining about the mundane. Though usually if we have things to complain about, it’s because we already have so much. One doesn’t complain about starvation or the cold. One feels the distinct gnawing emptiness of a stomach or bone-chilling cold of a wind that sends shivers across the body.

I’d vow to truly remember those who love me and how lucky I am for the support of a community of friends who bring so much laughter and joy to my life from all corners of this country. I’d remember it’s ok when a friend is no longer a part of my life, and that it’s even ok if I’m a little sad about it. I would stop labeling my feelings as right or wrong, and stop expecting them to conform to a rubric. I wouldn’t expect that everyone I meet will automatically like me. In fact, if I can actually manage to expect nothing, chances are I’d be far happier as any positive exchange would be an unexpected delight.

Perhaps I’d be grateful that I still have this incredible venue through Psychology Today to reach out to my readers and thank them. And I wouldn’t expect any higher quality prose to appear when I approach this article again in the coming year. So for my readers who’ve made it this far down the page, thank you—I had no expectations that you would. I’m grateful for your readership and wish you the happiest of New Years which might actually mean I hope you expect nothing from the year ahead and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised.

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Resolution or Rhetoric?