Ditch the List

Anyone writing New Year’s resolutions will find, come February, that they have not completed a majority of the entries on their list.

Resolutions present an almost impossible challenge, because writing a cut-and-dry list of possible future accomplishments simply doesn’t imbue a person with a magical sense of direction and motivation.

At this point, gradual failure is integral to the authentic New Year’s experience. People accept that they will write a list, ignore it, and willingly participate in the same cycle next year. They feel disappointment over their failure, and insist that next year will involve success instead.

Forbes contributor Dan Diamond explains that 40 percent of Americans create a list of resolutions, but only eight percent of them actually complete it on any given year.

Diamond states that most resolutions are not tangible or obvious, and those who fail to follow through blame it on lack of willpower.

Most individuals do not discover motivation on a piece of paper, and therefore these lists usually remain neglected. The incomplete goals serve as a reminder of personal failure, which in turn lowers self-esteem and damages a person’s attitude and confidence in the upcoming year.

“In surveys,” Diamond writes, “these would-be resolvers repeatedly say that if only they had more self-determination, they would’ve overcome any hurdles and achieved their goals.”

Diamond also states that this shift in blame allows those who fail in their resolutions to blame willpower, which he stresses as a “malleable” characteristic that cannot be limited by outside forces or exhausted.

According to Diamond, people possess the exact amount of willpower that they want in a specific moment.

Those who blame low willpower believe they can divert the blame away from their own personal weakness, but end up feeling worse in the long run when they genuinely believe they are held captive by a diminished willpower they cannot control.

Diamond offers tips to help improve resolutions, which include setting simplistic, yet specific, goals; but even when an individual pushes through in order to complete their goals for the year, they may still discover a lack of satisfaction in the accomplishment.

Psychologist Guy Winch explains that typical resolutions, “do little to alleviate emotional or psychological suffering,” and therefore support a deterioration of self-esteem over the course of the upcoming year.

Resolutions frequently center on unfeasible weight loss, romantic, and professional goals. These triumphs are often shallow and do not involve reasonable self-improvement, and may contribute to a decreased quality of life.

Such resolutions are absolutely detrimental to our health, according to Winch, because they don’t specifically improve quality of life in the long term.

Winch suggests planning long-term goals that support positive growth and mental health, rather than quick resolutions which only provide fleeting satisfaction. His list of beneficial goals includes healing emotional pain, improving relationships, and learning from failure.

But rather than setting any goals for the start of the New Year, perhaps we can benefit more from simply trying our best to keep up a positive attitude in the face of upcoming obstacles.

Howard S. Friedman, one of the scientists behind The Longevity Project, suggests that, “The healthiest individuals didn’t have Internet lists of health advice.” Rather, those who develop “committed and hard-working patterns” over time tend to find more satisfaction and success.

Friedman supports the abolishment of New Year’s resolutions, stating that those who obsess over their resolutions are, “trading away quality time that they need right now for other valuable endeavors.”

Resolutions waste time and energy better spent on projects that involve self-improvement and growing social relationships, Friedman argues. In addition, those who successfully complete goals manage to do so because they are “dedicated to things and people beyond themselves.”

Maybe it’s time to focus on self-improvement and personal growth, and just retire those resolutions for good.

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.