Trusting Myself This Year

How can we make resolutions, when we know we failed last year?

Posted Dec 31, 2017

Source: Pixabay/CC0

Have you made resolutions to change your life this year, in big ways or in small?  Whether it’s New Year’s Eve, the start of a new school year, or returning to ‘reality’ after a vacation, many of us will be picturing ourselves slimmer, fitter, less grumpy or better organised than ever before.

Occasionally we’ll settle on a brand-new resolution, perhaps to take up a hobby, or visit somewhere which has long intrigued us.  But most of us, most of the time, find ourselves with the same resolutions as last year.  That’s to say, we’re aiming at a target we know we’ve missed many times before.

In some ways, this makes perfect sense.  It’s not easy to make long-lasting changes to our habits or lifestyle, yet the importance of goals such as health or better relationships mean that we shouldn’t just abandon them after a few tries.

But what on earth are we thinking when we make these resolutions yet again? A dispassionate assessment of the evidence points towards failure yet again: why should this year be any different?  Somehow we have to maintain a balance in our minds, recognising that we’re going to find this tough, and need to plan for temptation, yet simultaneously feeling optimistic enough to make it worth another shot.  After all, I can’t resolve to do something and at the same time simply acknowledge that I won’t do it.

Thinking about trust – and in particular self-trust – can help strike this balance.  Our trust in other people can be guided by the evidence of their past behaviour, but track records allow us a degree of flexibility.  Sometimes we have been let down so many times that we simply cannot bring ourselves to trust, and must either abandon the relationship or find some other way of rebuilding.  And sometimes we know the other person to be completely reliable, so we have no hesitation in trusting.

But there is a middle ground in which it’s up to us.  I can choose to trust, to treat the other person as if she is reliable.  Or I can choose not to trust, to carefully guard my interests and look elsewhere for support.  Either can make sense, depending on how much I have to lose, what my other options are, what my general outlook on life is.

The same goes for self-trust.  There is really no point trusting myself to live an entirely raw food diet next year, to train for an ultra-marathon or never feel the slightest irritation with my kids.  These are not feasible goals for me, and it would be self-delusion to adopt them.  But there are plenty of less ambitious goals – to eat better, exercise more, be more patient – for which self-trust can be both sensible and productive.  To be sure, my track record doesn’t inspire full confidence.  But it leaves room for optimism and hope.

Self-trust isn’t magic dust: we can let ourselves down just as easily as others can let us down.  But taking a little leap, having confidence in ourselves, can provide the impetus we need to adopt those resolutions again this year, and to think creatively about practical changes which may make it easier to stick with it this time. 

And if you find this tricky – as I know I will – then remember that every day is another opportunity for a fresh start.  Resolutions aren’t just for January 1st.