Resolution Blues

“Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.” — Oscar Wilde

Forget your resolution; set a goal. I know the temptation — we are turning the page to a new year, and the time feels right to resolve to change something about yourself and in turn your life. You know you should eat healthier, drink less, exercise more. Maybe now, maybe this time, your resolution will take. After all, you are a year older and more mature, better able to control your impulses. Maybe this year will be different. Except no, it won’t.

Happy New Year, Vickisee Photography (2012)

Every year is the same. Every year you are human. Every year you are fallible. These annual vows of self-betterment are weightless without a change of strategy. It’s time to burn your old blueprint.

Forget Your Resolutions

They have failure built in. Abrupt changes are disruptive, and once the excitement settles and the motivation fades you are left only with yourself, your own doubts and demons. You will find yourself engaged in a pitched battle of wills with your nucleus accumbens (the pleasure center of your brain). And you will lose.

This is why Alcoholics Anonymous directs addicts to commit only to not having a drink today. Just today. It is a series of 24-hour resolutions, because they know exactly how hard it is to perpetuate a lasting change. It runs contrary to human nature, and 14 out of 15 will fail in their quest for sobriety. Your resolution might not involve overcoming a disease. You might only be trying to kick chocolate to the curb or stop smoking, but it is still an all or nothing proposition. There is no room for course correction. Sadly, the relapse rate on New Year’s resolutions nearly equals that of problem drinkers trying to dry out.

And what then? With your resolution broken you will face two choices: take up the burden again or quit. You are Sisyphus continually pushing your boulder uphill only to see it roll back down to the bottom, your own self-worth and expectations of greatness in ruins beneath it.

Sisyphus, Matthäus Loder (19th Century)

The sooner we accept the fact that we will crack, that we will deviate from the path and disappoint ourselves, the sooner we can get on effecting real change in our lives with an approach that actually works.

Set goals

Set a realistic goal, and train your efforts on that. The problem with a resolution is that the change itself becomes the focus. Rather, let the goal be the focus. The change will take care of itself. However, you must first put your goal on a sure footing by meeting these 3 conditions:

  • Make it measurable

Losing some weight is not the same as losing 30 lbs. Give it a number, and give it a deadline. Vague goals are easily abandoned. Without some metric it’s just an untethered wish given to blow away like so much New Years confetti.

  • Make it manageable

Losing that 30 lbs can seem daunting until you realize that only means dropping 2.5 lbs a month. Any goal worth pursuing is probably too big to swallow in one bite. Divide your goal into a series of goals until the scale of the thing doesn’t feel so intimidating.

  • Make it mutual

You don’t need matching goals, but accountability to someone you care about will help keep your aim true during those inevitable times when the target goes out of focus. Let them have ownership of your goal, and you theirs. We are less likely to surrender when there are expectations beyond our own.

Of course the recipe for any success requires more than 3 simple ingredients, but these are the indispensable few. Anything else is ancillary.


A University of Scranton poll found that 25% of people cannot maintain their resolution past the first week and 92% are ultimately unsuccessful before the year’s end. On January 1 they will begin again, like Sisyphus, shoulder against rock against gravity, and regardless of their iron-clad willpower, and despite their insistence that this time, this time, they damn well mean it that boulder will come to rest at the bottom once more.

Forget your resolution; set a goal. Give it some detail, give it a deadline, and then give it hell, because a mere idea is not a plan, and tomorrow is not a day on the calendar.

This post first appeared on TrapperHaskins.com

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