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Blog: The Trouble with New Year's Resolutions

Blog: The Trouble with New Year's Resolutions

New Year's resolutions should symbolize our capacity for transformation, our desire for self-improvement. But too often they instead represent our lack of discipline and self-control, our weak wills, our abject failure. Why is it that New Year's resolutions are so hard to keep? The answer is actually quite simple.

How many of you have already broken the New Year's resolutions you established for yourselves on January 1? How many of you didn't bother to make resolutions for 2009 at all, knowing—based on the crash-and-burn fate of past promises to lose weight, to find a new job, to exercise more, to quit smoking, to floss every night—that you wouldn't keep them. Count me among that latter category. I will freely, though shamefully, admit that I no longer make New Year's resolutions with any rectitude or conviction because I know I won't keep them. If I don't make resolutions, I can't feel like a failure for breaking them.

New Year's resolutions should symbolize our capacity for transformation, our desire for self-improvement. But too often they instead represent our lack of discipline and self-control, our weak wills, our abject failure. Why is it that New Year's resolutions are so hard to keep?

The answer is simple: New Year's resolutions require changing our behavior, and chemically and biologically, our brains prefer to follow the path of least resistance, to do what they've always done. It's not that our brains are wired to reject change—indeed, our ability to adapt accounts for our longevity on earth—it's just that change really does take time.

Another reason why New Year's resolutions are so hard to keep is because they're often unrealistic, according to The Boston Globe. We set ourselves up for failure and disappointment by establishing goals that we can't possibly meet, either because they lack specificity or because they require sweeping and sudden transformation. For instance, we resolve to "eat better," but we don't define better. For instance, we resolve to "find a new job," but we don't establish the plan necessary to get there.

If we want to stick to our new year's resolutions, we need to make them specific. We also need support from friends and family. The Boston Globe article notes that social networks play a critical role in supporting our efforts to make positive changes in our lives. Losing weight and kicking the cigarette habit, for example, are easier when we embark on those endeavors with lots of other people, Nicholas Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard University, tells the Globe.

In the spirit of change and Web 2.0, I'm going to make some New Year's resolutions, some specific, realistic New Year's resolutions, right here, for the record, so that I might have a better chance of keeping them:

1. Every week, I'm going to contact one person from my network—someone with whom I've been out of touch—to maintain those connections.

2. All of the career stories that I report and write in 2009 will contain at least three pieces of practical advice, or they will describe the experience of an individual that readers can learn from or relate to (e.g. someone who's been laid off, someone who's started their own company, etc.) Stories and blog entries light on practical advice (such as this one) will at least be short enough that you hopefully won't feel that reading them has been a waste of your time, or they'll be entertaining enough to justify their existence.

3. I'm going to get my recommended daily value of calcium (1,000 mg) every day.

What are your New Year's resolutions, and how can I help you keep them?

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Tags self-improvementnew yearNetworkingchangeself-helpnew year's resolutionssocial networkscareer

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