Resolving To Be New: The Art of the Successful Resolution

Ah, New Year’s. That time once a year when things are new and shiny, and hope springs, singing “I can CHANGE!” What a lovely, lovely idea…if only we could change that easily, I would be out of a job and into my fallback career as professional storyteller.

Let’s get real. If I said to myself today, think I’ll run the marathon in New York this year, I wouldn’t start out training by trying to run 26-point-something miles. I want to be able to walk the next day!  Finding a nice little track, and doing a walk/run around the course, would be a much less painful start. Hopefully, since I didn’t overdo, and I woke up in time the next morning, I’d do it again. Maybe more run, less walk, this time.

Yet every year, we expect our underdeveloped willpower to perform the emotional and behavioral equivalent of a marathon when we commit to drastically changing our eating, drinking, drugging, cranky, low-performing selves (in our own eyes, and that’s a problem in itself) into dramatically healthier, more functional people.

And then we wonder why our resolutions fail?

This month, I’ll be exploring that impossible equation, will + power = change. And I would love to hear from you, not only about the resolutions some of you have made, but also about the decision others have, not to make resolutions, or not to tie yourself to once a year.

What is our relationship with our wills, and how much inner power is within us to make what we will to happen, happen? What is the neurobiology of will, and how do recent events, including the legalization of marijuana, impact our ability to motivate and power through? Is the resolution something we deeply desire, or is it something we “should” be doing? Is the resolution too general, too specific… what is a well-thought-out plan to make our hope a reality, and is there some flexibility to the expectations, the picture, of how we’re going to arrive at the goal?

So many questions, one little month. This is going to be fun!


Putting the Will in Willpower, Strengthen Your Brain, Strengthen Your Resolve, Keeping Change Fresh: the Power of the New,  The Neuroscience of Will, Will and Qi Gong (Guest Author Kay Hutchinson) 


Thanks as ever for sharing your wisdom, Inga. I usually deplore new years eve and refuse to make resolutions, but I’m doing something a little different this year. I found my way to a workbook and calendar by a woman named Leonie Dawson that got me excited about 2014. Among other lovely things is a list of 100 things you would like to do in the coming year. I had no idea how difficult it would be to come up with that list! But it includes everything from chew bubble gum, try a new recipe, and listen to Adele to finish writing the book. So I’m not making resolutions but setting intentions. That some of them are “easy” makes the whole enterprise less daunting. Here’s hoping for goodness! L.L., 1/6/14

In addition to “I will” we need to allow ourselves to be human. This time of year always reminds me of how difficult change can be. On a tangent I always remember that change is not all or nothing. Changes in one’s life can be dramatic when we actually allow it. I use the teeter-totter principle: You only have to walk up the board 51% to have the thing flop. So often I get trapped into thinking nothing is changing as I notice there are times when I fail. It’s a valuable image! it allows me to persevere and not give up at the first sign of trouble. – S.B., 1/7/14

what comes to mind is that grandiose resolutions are a way of avoiding the present moment and thereby almost guaranteed to fail.  and if not fail, to serve something other than presence.

my exp is that ego really dislikes small steps and is disdainful of (achievable) goals   So I will lose 50 pounds* pleases ego no end (and is easily sabotaged) as opposed to I will lose one pound or half a pound: realistic, achievable, worth celebrating.  which most likely ego will sneer at.  I can already picture the conversation, which happy/content I loses the moment it starts.

(I will run a mile a day, I will become a vegan overnight, I will quit drinking, I will _______  fill in the blank, you know them)

ego reminds me of tar baby – no interaction with it turns out well.  so I’ve learned to isolate the voice whispering away in any unhappy/depressed/unjoyous moment, hold that comment in full awareness, forgive myself for ever believing it and make a small doable commitment to turn my attention back to joy.  For instance, right now, I am going to drum a new rhythm that I am learning.

that felt good!  and brought me back to that pleasant bubbly alive feeling inside.

Now to look at resolutions next pitfall.  Just why am I considering these grandiose changes?  for their own sake?  lose 50 pounds, check that off my list and get on with it?  or is there a hidden agenda?  lose 50 pounds and then I will like myself and more to the point I will be loved/adored/admired/wanted/belong?  What energy am I going into this resolution with – I’m going to starve/beat/punish myself because I’m such a pathetic fat loser? Or out of love for this body and this human being I am going to start slowy/gently reversing the process of overeating, of choosing foods that have a short term rush, (ooh those praline pecans) of using food to fill anything other than my belly.

One of the hardest ancient beliefs I have to contend with is that only bad people waste food.  a rather wise woman pointed out to me that my belly was full (over full!) and the compost bin was not, so where best to put the remaining food.   that allows me some space to smile every time I consider eating past the point of fullness.  which I still often do

best luck to all readers with that next small life changing commitment, – NW, 1/10

I think your suggestion at building will is a great one! Most of us bite off more than we can chew, get overwhelmed, drop out, and then feel like a failure. Thinking of will-power as a muscle that can be developed is helpful. How interesting that the brain is related to will power. I know someone who was diagnosed with Adult ADD and has a totally new perspective on life–finally a reason for the lack of “willpower.” But what about the rest of us–no will power, but no neat diagnoses with drugs to help? – LK, 1/21

Good point. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying a bit – after all, willpower is so much more than ADD, as well as in many cases distinctly different – but that being said, treatment for ADD can also inform how we treat willpower in general. Next time, I’m going into some of the ways our knowledge of neurology informs our understanding of how to build willpower.