Quitter’s Day, they call it — the second Friday of January.
At Rappore, we like the underlying idea of New Year’s Resolutions — the idea that you should have the ambition to change your behaviors, the hope that you can grow, evolve, and improve yourself. But on the other hand, given the amount of failure that inevitably occurs because of these resolutions, we have serious reservations regarding their value. Most of the people we treat endure enough failure as is. We don’t see tremendous therapeutic value in making a yearly ritual of it.
That’s the thing about New Year’s Resolutions — they yoke together both failure and hope. Two classic opposites, in such close proximity, two oppositely charged atoms. The more you have of one, the less it’s possible you can have of the other: the more you fail, the less hope you have, and vice versa.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald. If that’s the case, no doubt making a New Year’s Resolution — while fully aware of the fact that failure is inevitable — would have given Mr. Fizgerald an aneurysm.
To us, the real art of the New Year’s Resolution is coming up with one that gives you hope, without setting yourself up for failure. That’s why we’ve created this little guide to help you through the fraught process of coming up with your New Year’s Resolutions.
Some people work well under pressure, with a deadline looming. For people like that, setting difficult — but achievable — goals and establishing specific, tight timeframes can be motivational. If you’re the kind of person who can set a goal and stick to it, it’s reasonable to aspire to lose 5 pounds a month for the next year.
This is the tack that most other guides to keeping New Year’s Resolutions recommend taking. But if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t respond well to pressure, or who gets frustrated easily, you probably should go in a different direction. For people like you, we recommend choosing resolutions that are less specific — but no less aspirational —and that don’t force you to adhere to a strict time frame.
The logic is simple: if you have problems dealing with frustration, don’t put yourself in a situation that you will find frustrating. If you have a problem dealing with failure, don’t set yourself up to fail. Instead of setting a goal like losing 5 pounds in a month, think more abstractly: make it your resolution to live a healthier lifestyle, or to exercise more often.
The different personality types described above will probably need to discover different mechanisms when it comes to holding themselves accountable, too. The first personality type — the type that works well under pressure, that doesn’t have an issue motivating themselves — probably doesn’t need anything other than their own psyche to stay on target. For everyone else, we recommend finding a partner in crime — a friend or family member who has the same resolution as you do, who can provide moral and practical support when your will inevitably begins to waver.
Too often our resolutions are focused on stopping an old, negative behavior, instead of creating a new, positive one. We want to stop smoking, or eat less red meat — noble aspirations, of course, but in our opinion it’s better to focus on pleasure rather than pain — on joy, rather than deprivation.
That’s why we encourage our patients to think of the positive, rather than the negative. Because most people don’t actually want to quit smoking — but they do want to be able to run a marathon without coughing up a lung. Besides, when you think about your resolutions, you don’t want to remind yourself of what you’re missing out on. To go back to the cigarette example, you don’t want to think about how that first smoke of the morning feels — you want to be thinking about the feeling of the air swirling around in your lungs when you’re on a long run. Reframing your resolutions will keep you focused on the upside of developing new behavior — the new pleasures in your life, rather than the old ones you’re missing out on.
We sort of got at this idea above, but it’s so important, we want to state it as clearly as possible. It’s great to want to stop doing self-destructive stuff, but too often New Year’s Resolutions are exclusively focused on the painful, rather than the pleasurable. So in addition to making it a goal to give up something bad like tobacco, make a resolution to do something that brings you happiness. If you like sports, promise yourself you’ll go to more games this year; if you like the theater, make this the year you finally see Hamilton. Believe us, these are the kinds of resolutions you’ll end up keeping — the ones you really want to keep.
If you’re having trouble motivating yourself to make — or keep — your resolutions, you’re not alone. Rappore works with people who also struggle to find the will to follow through and accomplish the goals they’ve set out for themselves. If you’re curious to know more about how we can help you, click here.