Why I Won't Be Making New Year's Resolutions

By Kristance Harlow 12/28/16

Setting big goals is dangerous because, unless resolutions are understood as flexible processes, the only outcomes available are to fail or succeed. For me, that is a risky proposition. I lack the ability to moderate.

Why I Won't Be Making New Year's Resolutions
It's not worth it.

New Year’s resolutions are rarely successful. Research published by Statistic Brain, a non-partisan independent research group, found that only eight percent of people achieve their resolutions. That number is significantly higher for people in their twenties versus people over 50. The longer we maintain certain behaviors, the less likely we are to be able to change them with a simple resolution. Overall, 75 percent of people claim to maintain their resolution for at least one week, and after that the success rate plummets with each passing week. I have a difficult time understanding the eight percent who don’t fall off the resolution wagon.

New Year’s resolutions, or a variation on that theme, is a tradition that has been practiced across cultures for millennia. The Babylonians, whose culture thrived over 4,000 years ago, had a New Year’s celebration in March that honored the harvest and the crowning of a new king for continued blessings by the gods. The Romans also marked the New Year in March, although eventually it shifted to January 1. They also honored the changing calendar by inaugurating new leadership or paying homage to the emperor. The specific date for New Year’s Day has shifted and changed through time and place, but the basic premise of rejuvenation and preparing for the future has persisted.

I love that our trip around the sun is celebrated en masse. I applaud anyone who courageously takes on the daunting task of improving their life. I also am a big fan of second chances and personal development. If New Year’s resolutions are what provide someone with hope and purpose, I would do nothing to deter that course of action.

But that doesn’t mean I will be participating.

The New Year used to be about celebrating large external goals and wishes, rather than the kind of personal resolutions that we gravitate towards today. The self is the focal point of present-day New Year’s resolutions. Most of these involve huge behavioral changes, like shopping less, losing weight, or quitting smoking. Even in 1947, the most popular resolutions had to do with being a better person, getting healthier, and saving money.

You know how they say, “without your health you’ve got nothing?” It’s true. When the body is healthy, the mind works more efficiently and perspectives are clearer. But weight or size goals are a misdirection of true health; health is not achieved by having the ideal appearance or being the perfect size and weight, but rather maintaining a body that can take care of itself, allowing the body’s inhabitant, a.k.a. you, to focus on other aspects of your life that are equally or more important. For me, health begins with sobriety.

Most resolutions are contingent on willpower. The concept of ending addictive behaviors in a specific year is predicated on the notion that we can shape the future with willpower. From losing weight to earning more money for travel, it all requires us to work harder and have greater self control. It is no wonder so few people can keep up with their resolutions.

Setting big goals is dangerous because, unless resolutions are understood as flexible processes, the only outcomes available are to fail or succeed. For me, that is a risky proposition. As an alcoholic, I have always been go big or go home. I’m such a perfectionist that if I put too much pressure on myself and don’t live up to it, I’m in danger of falling back down the rabbit hole. I lack the ability to moderate. I have no self control, at least not in terms of absolutes. Didn’t the realization that I’m an alcoholic teach me that my willpower is not a very effective tool?

Success should be subjective. True success is attainable only by allowing the true self to shine through. My worth is not defined by how I fit or don’t fit into societal norms. I can just be me and that’s good enough. It took me a long time to see that success is not intrinsically tied to predetermined achievements.

When I was less than a month sober, I was annoyed and upset by the idea that I could never drink again. When I future trip, I become very attentive to details that don’t matter: arranging and rearranging my desk, trying to find a way to organize everything in a manner that will be simple for me to maintain. I will begin to do something for entertainment or creativity, but I don’t bring my vision out into the open because all the minuscule details are distorting my perception and I lose track of the path out. Fearing the notion of forever, I nearly drove myself back to drinking by obsessing over minutiae.

Curtailing real or imagined plans, requests, or opposition does a disservice to everyone around you. We all have something to offer the world and that something is inside us wanting out. We silence our truth with failed attempts to fix what is outside of us. You don’t need to wait for an approved time to start living your life.

The most important thing in my life is my sobriety. To get to this point, I had to let go of my desire to control tomorrow. I have goals and plans, but they never come before sobriety. Focusing on outcomes and future tripping won’t make life better today. I must redirect my attention towards what I can control in this moment. Today I can choose to not pick up a drink. Today I can try to do the next right thing. If I don’t drink, I have hope for tomorrow.

Life always seems to have a more interesting adventure in mind for me than I could have planned for. I no longer want to constrain my life to a scope limited by my own imagination. Over-scheduling blocks me from the wondrous power of the universe.

New Year's resolutions put a limit on the endless possibilities that can happen by being connected to your higher power. The will of my highest good needs to be done, not my ego driven will. In any moment, I can live in love and walk in the certainty that the universe will carry me through today. There are things I hope for, but my only resolution is to stay sober one day at a time.

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