Should I Bother With Resolutions?

An internal debate about New Year’s resolutions, especially about weight and job

Posted Dec 29, 2014

Person: Resolutions are ridiculous. You always break them so making them just makes you feel bad.

Alter ego: Resolutions are merely another word for setting goals. You’re not against setting goals, are you? I mean you do want to lose 20 pounds.

Person: Yeah but I’ve been resolving that for decades and those 20 pounds are still there.

Alter ego: Sometimes it takes 100 failures before you succeed but that doesn’t mean you abandon setting goals. You do that and you’re giving up on life.

Person: Even if I wanted to make a resolution--and I don’t--there’s nothing special about January 1. That’s just some date Julius Caesar randomly picked in 46 BC to start the year.

Alter ego:  Even though it’s irrational, early January feels like a particularly good time to get a fresh start. You just don’t feel the same way on February 9, or June 16, September 23….

Person: All right, all right. But give me one reason why making that resolution to lose 20 pounds this year is any more likely to be more successful than in the previous umpteen years?

Alter ego: Well, maybe the problem isn’t the resolution, it’s what you’re doing to keep it.

Person: I know every trick in the book about how to lose weight. For example, I've read Marty Nemko's article in PsychologyToday.com article listing a bunch of ‘em.

Alter ego: So it’s not a matter of knowing more tricks, what is it a matter of?

Person: It’s a matter of caring enough.

Alter ego: What would make you care enough?

Person: Stop deluding myself into thinking the 20 pounds won’t kill me. Even though the doc says I’m healthy, I’m 57 so it could kill me.

Alter ego: So you need to keep reminding yourself of that before and during every meal.

Person: Right.

Alter ego: So do you think it’s worth making a New Year’s resolution to lose 20 pounds by reminding yourself that carrying around those extra 20 24/7 could kill you?

Person: I guess.

Alter ego: Is it worth setting a specific objective, like eating 1200 calories a day?

Person: I’d never have the discipline to keep counting.

Alter ego: How about that you’d lose two pounds a week?

Person: A week is too far away to keep me motivated.

Alter ego: Okay, how about 0.2 pounds a day? Your scale measures accurately to 0.2 pounds.

Person: Maybe.

Alter ego: Would it also help to check-in daily with a buddy?

Person: For other people, probably. For me, I can’t see doing it.

Alter ego: Should you keep posting your weight as a comment on your PsychologyToday.com weight-loss article?

Person: It hasn’t done me any good so far.

Alter ego: But maybe in combination with having that not-too-tough goal of losing 0.2 pounds a day.

Person: Maybe. But why wait until January 1?

Alter ego: Why indeed.

Person: I’ll think about it.

Alter ego: You know, you also should be looking for a new job. You don’t to stay in that crappy job any more. Just picture how good it would feel to be in a job that felt rewarding, where you had a decent boss and were paid fairly.

Person: That’s too far into the future. I dread looking for a job: I hate networking. I hate all the rejections. I’m not sure I can get anything better. And even if I could, it takes months maybe longer to land a decent job. I can’t get myself motivated.

Alter ego: You can’t let yourself get overwhelmed. You’ve got to give yourself a daily goal—like do one thing a day: Answer one ad, invite one person for coffee. One thing.

Person: It feels like an endless process.

Alter ego: Then create little milestones: Every time you meet someone that’s a win. Every time they tell you, “I have nothing for you now but maybe in a month,” that’s a win.

Person: I’ll think about it:

Alter ego: Picture how good it would feel to have a good job. Do that one little thing every day toward landing a job, and feel good about little wins along the way.

Person: I’ll think about it.

Alter ego: Don’t think too long. Start.

Person: Shut up.

The upshot

If you’re willing to accept that goal-setting is worthwhile, then so is a New Year’s resolution. Early January is simply a time when you’re more likely to be thinking about making changes. The key is to:

  • not only set a goal that’s important to you but
  • consciously pick a plan for achieving the goal that you sense has the best chance of working, and
  • establish specific milestones that occur frequently enough to keep you motivated.

After all, you have nothing to lose. Making a resolution doesn’t cost you a dime and if you break it, you’re no worse off than you are now. And what if you do keep it? Think of how good you’d feel.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.