The Case Against Resolutions: Never Say Never to Lessen Your Guilt
We spent New Year’s Eve together this year and with a few others. Before the clock struck Midnight, we decided as a group not to share our resolutions since we often break the vows, setting ourselves up for failure. We adhere to the atavistic adage: Never say never.
Yet, a few days later the two of us were thinking we should have made them because doing so might have kept us more resolute to do this and not that—namely what we consume, how much we exercise, complain about the cold and the pandemic, our health, our spending and so on.
Perhaps, we wondered, does writing down resolutions or voicing them out loud with others within earshot, putting them on social media or having any list of do’s and don’ts on paper and in ink really make us more accountable and perhaps healthier, wiser, better people.
But this tactic begs the question: Don’t we have the willpower just to think in our heads in the moment what’s good and not so good for us to do and stick by our guns?
Continuing that thought process, we realized it might be more important that we resolve not to put into writing any planned actions, so we can remain more flexible as the world and our own situations change. We know they rapidly seem to do that as we age and surprises like Covid-19 come along, followed by new variants and vaccines.
Of course, in taking this kind of course we’re breaking with tradition from 4,000 years ago. We read online that the first New Year’s resolutions date back to ancient Babylon. The Babylonians are said to have started the tradition during a 12-day New Year celebration known as Akitu. During the Akitu festival, the Babylonians planted crops, crowned a new king or pledged loyalty to the reigning king, and made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return borrowed items. They believed that if they kept their word, the gods would look favorably on them for the year ahead. If they broke their promises, they would fall on the bad side of their gods. Who are we to tangle with gods?
But times have changed and so have we, so we’re willing to risk our crops et al. We have loads of examples why we think our idea is so much smarter, a sort of “thumbing our noses” that may tempt the wrath of the gods after all. Aren’t we good at rationalizing? Read on and see how good these might be.
For example, why resolve not to eat chocolate or any sweet because it might add pounds, only to discover halfway into the year that some brilliant scientist discovers that eating 12 ounces a week of something with sugar will actually help make you smarter, more agile, kinder, sweeter and keep you younger. Look at the data about coffee. One year it’s good, the next it’s unhealthy; same goes for butter and margarine; and even eggs! You never really know. Instead, we’re resolving—and only in our heads and hearts—not to consume too much of anything. It’s called moderation--a little corner of that chocolate bar, a small glass of wine, a wedge of cake, an occasional croissant just might be the perfect antidote to anxiety, loneliness and sadness.
Here’s another. Why resolve to be kind and refrain from lecturing all those folks who aren’t wearing masks or aren’t wearing them properly to cover their noses. Some now think a good dose of bossiness builds great character and may help eliminate Covid-19 and all its variants faster. Now’s the perfect time to step up, take charge and do the world a huge favor. Or, do what Margaret vows to do. Carry masks with her and when someone is unmasked, offer to give them one. Hint. Hint. Hint.
Is it in our best interest to resolve to be a less grumpy, more accommodating, a sweeter parent, partner or friend, and have a charming persona all the time? Not all the time, we say. There’s no point since we’ve been writing for several years about how nobody’s perfect and good is good enough! Getting real is the better resolution if we were to choose, and the reality is that if you think you’re the exception to this rule, dream on. That doesn’t give anyone license to be mean, rude or hurtful. We can simply try to do better in the disposition department and that will be pretty great.
Why resolve to spend less money and budget smarter when you’re unlikely to do so. Trying to curb your spending while inflation is climbing is akin to starting a diet by buying a couple of pints of ice cream--and that’s a different resolution. Better just to weigh choices carefully (don’t weigh yourself if you do binge on that pint of peppermint bark) and try not to spend more than you have.
You can also join us in the game of bargain hunting resolutions. It’s fun to wander through a grocery store and find deals; yes, sometimes those generic brands are just as good as the high-priced fancy labeled ones. Guess what? They’re often produced by the same manufacturer. Margaret uses the many CVS coupons she receives on her phone app. Within seconds, she saves with just a click of a button. And buying this or that on sale or finding those 2-for-1 items represent excellent searches. Also, nobody’s going to see the labels in your home because fewer are coming over and eying your stuff.
Why resolve not to try Botox or any cosmetic surgery or high-priced creams and potions if we find we’re appalled at our wrinkles and turkey necks? We still hold to our thoughts to avoid such remedies for several reasons--first, we’re terrified of the possible pain, the failure to receive the results we want, we are cheap and, quite frankly, there are no studies on the long-term effects of these procedures. Do we think about it from time to time, yes? Will we take the plunge? Probably not.
Why resolve to return phone calls promptly or within a day, pay bills as soon as you get them, write thank you notes for gifts within a week or month after receiving one when you know all these demands will be super-stressors and anxiety provokers. They make us want to avoid getting out of bed in the morning. Better here to do things within a reasonable time frame. For example, most etiquette gurus say you have a year to write a thank you note for a wedding gift. If someone thinks less of you for taking your time, so be it. They might need to resolve their unrealistic expectations.
And lastly, why resolve to get into any disagreements or get defensive about almost anything. Facts you can check on Google or many other online, readily available sources. For other matters, it’s exhausting and raises your stress levels, which can lead to major health problems. It’s better to bow out gracefully with a simple comment such as, “I hear your position and will consider it,” or “Thanks for your thoughts; I’ll get back to you with mine.” You’ve taken control of what’s good for you and considered the other person’s position.