Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are something of a joke. No sooner are they made then they are broken. It’s worth a laugh, but not much else.

Today Elizabeth Bernstein offers the best advice on New Year’s resolutions that I have ever heard. To give yourself the best chance of keeping your resolutions,  have someone else make them for you.

A spouse, a parent, a loved one, a close friend… anyone who knows you and cares about you … will make better resolutions than you will.

And, when someone else makes them, you are more likely to keep them.

If you think you know yourself better than anyone else knows you, you are probably wrong. If you think that you care more about your well-being than anyone else does, you are almost surely wrong.

Others, especially those who care about you, see you more clearly, more fairly, and more objectively. Still, they are too polite to point out your faults, foibles, and flaws.

They also know that criticism is self-defeating. When someone points out all of your bad qualities you often make it a point of pride not to yield to their criticism.

A New Year’s resolution is not a criticism. It is a vow. It ought to be a sacred vow, like the moral imperative to keep your word.

If you tell someone to resolve to eat better you are implying that he eats the wrong foods. Still, it is better to be encouraged to eat healthier than to be told that you eat like a pig.

The nuance makes a difference.

Best of all, asking someone else to make your resolutions directly contradicts the received wisdom of the therapy culture.

Bernstein shows how: “Sure, resolutions are supposed to be personal. People can't change unless they're ready to change. And having someone you love tell you how you could become a better person could be terrifying.”

The therapy culture has told us all that we can’t change unless we really want to change and unless we’re ready to change.

It has told us that change has to come from within, that it cannot be imposed from without.

Of course, these concepts are really a sleight-of-hand. If you accept them you are being set up to blame yourself for your eventual failure to get better in therapy.

We can debate this all we like, but the simple exercise of asking someone else to make your resolutions for you will go a long way toward disabusing you of these aberrant notions. Better yet, you can try it at home.

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