Resolutions would be almost like magic – instant change – if they worked. But every year I watch the newcomers to the swimming pool and the gym and I can time them ending their efforts to January 21. I am just as happy to see them go and leave the lanes less crowded for those of us swimming daily year-round, but feel sad for their missed efforts. There is something built in to resolutions that creates failure.
The demand for immediate change when making a resolution doesn’t take into account how personal change actually works. Real change needs to be gradual, with time for backslides and changing our minds, with time for noticing and reflecting on how we feel and what we think. Without noticing our actual experience, the old habits maintain their strength and undermine what we are trying to do. Soon we have reverted back to our old ways.
I have found that imperfect change – bumpy, slow, exhilarating, steady, awkward – can work and can last. Making a decision of will and then pushing through everything to keep a resolution without noticing anything else is a set-up for self-criticism and failure. We can hope for New Year’s patience to change slowly and maybe just change a little.