Reconsidering Resolutions

By Lydia Denworth | Jan. 1, 2016 | Psychology Today | Topics: Parenting and Family, Science and Health

Why I will be keeping it real and saying thank you.

I resolve to change it up this resolution season.

Usually, at this time of year, I’m as game as anyone for creating a to-do list of self-improvement. I have always thought of it as an annual refocusing of attention and regularly vowed to exercise more, eat better, work smarter and so on. When the repetitive nature of these promises and the implied lack of progress threatened to depress me, I’d tell myself, “at least I’m consistent!” All those goals are still valid. I would still like to exercise more, eat better and work smarter.

But this year, I’m facing up to the fact that some weeks I’ll nail the running and cut out baked goods and other weeks I’ll be lucky to walk the dog and I will need (yes, need) chocolate chip cookies. I’ll have weeks of writing thousands of words that say just what I want them to say and unproductive weeks where I’ll stare at a blank screen or erase everything I write. Next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, there will still be room for improvement in all these areas. So enough with that already.

One reason for my new attitude is that resolutions are exceedingly hard to keep. According to one survey, only 10% of us manage not to break them. There’s all kinds of brain science around these days to tell us why. Even though this is (usually) a blog about brain science, I’m not going to write a post like that since there are plenty out there already but you can read about it here and here.

The other reason I’m switching it up is personal. The year promises to be one of change for me. On top of the regular challenges of being a wife, mother, and  my professional obligations, I will turn fifty, my oldest son will go off to college, and I will continue to look after my aging mother, who needs ever-increasing amounts of care.

All of that means I’m more aware of the cycle of life this year, of the big picture, of the change that comes to us all whether we keep our resolutions or not.

So this year my resolutions have nothing to do with exercise, food, or work (or at least not directly). And I’m doing two things the psychologists say will help me meet my goals: keeping the list short and writing it down (publicly no less).

Here they are:

Be Realistic: Professionally and domestically, I spend a lot of time worrying about what I haven’t done yet (ideas that go unpitched to editors, closets that remain chaotic) rather than appreciating what I have accomplished.  (Sound familiar, anyone?) Aiming for a year of “good enough” may not sound like much, but for me, right now, it sounds like a big relief. What that means specifically is to aim for sustainability. To chug along. This year I will embrace my inner tortoise, not yearn to be the hare.

Be Grateful: I read once that you ought to write a thank you note every day and that if you think you don’t have anyone to thank, you aren’t paying attention. A husband who has my back, teenagers who like talking to me and giving me the occasional hug, and friends who are willing to listen, these are people I am thankful for. I am not the best about writing thank you notes (and in my new realistic mode—see above—I can hardly claim that I will start now), but I do hope to be demonstratively grateful for the people who sustain me.

In this spirit, I got a text from a close friend yesterday after a conversation about a recent crisis (mine, but could as easily have been hers). She wrote, “Here’s to a 2016 of navigating life’s transitions with laughter and whatever else it takes (wine)!” Her message struck me as eminently realistic (and achievable) and it made me grateful for her friendship. Check and check.

I’m off to a great start.