Not Giving Up on New Year’s Resolutions

Photo © 2012 lucidtech CC BY 2.0

Right about now, you may be feeling that urge, which hits sometime during the first couple of months of every year, the urge to forget the New Year’s resolutions to which you had so daringly committed only weeks ago. After all, you’ve already eaten that cake, skipped that workout session, smoked that cigarette… whatever. You tried, you failed.

But if the resolution was a good idea to start with—good enough for you to resolve to do it in the first place—then it’s probably still a good idea now. And giving up on resolutions, it seems to me, may be the sign of an addiction.

What do I mean by that? I’m glad you asked.

The thought first occurred to me while suffering from a long bout of writer’s block. Now, I don’t actually believe in “writer’s block”… but it’s kinda hard not to believe in it when you’re stuck in the middle of it.

What was happening was, there was always something more “important” or “urgent” that kept me from making significant progress with any of my large-scale writing projects. Things like blog posts and exercising and doing the budget and eating lunch and following Facebook and watching TV in the bathtub.

In reality, of course, life was not overwhelming me. But I was allowing it to overwhelm me; I was actually turning to distraction in order to avoid bad feelings and insecurities that I had associated with larger writing projects. I could always claim, “Those blog posts are important, because I plan to collect them into a publishable ebook” (which was the truth). But as soon as I’d try to put together even an outline for such a book, my brain would freeze; and never mind the work to collect the relevant blog posts and rewrite them to fit into the book. After a couple years of this (yes, years), the joy of completing a larger project seemed a distant memory, now perpetually out of reach, and that just made me feel even worse. And my self-doubts and self-criticisms only served to support those feelings.

Through much soul-searching and the support of friends, I finally realized that, believe it or not, I was addicted to writer’s block.

Think about it. What are the characteristics of an addiction? Different analysts identify different characteristics for different addictions. But they’re all similar, and lists will commonly include items like:

All of these applied to my addiction of writer’s block.

And they apply to many of the changes we make New Year’s resolutions about, too. Especially the last item: every time you try to do the right thing, and fail, it can make you feel that much more lost, like your goal is that much more out of reach. So much so that some people don’t even bother to make New Year’s resolutions anymore, or mid-year resolutions or quarter-year resolutions or just-for-the-halibut resolutions; they refuse to pursue any changes in their lives at all.

But the truth about resolution failure is much brighter. As psychologists Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell wrote in Freedom from Addiciton: The secret behind successful addiction busting:

Contrary to popular belief, the more times you try to stop, the more likely you are to stop your problem activity eventually… Nobody wakes up one morning and just stops being addicted… Emotionally, over time, you will have identified more and more with your addictive habit and progressively built a lifestyle around it. That doesn’t just evaporate in a second. Just as it takes time for the addictive activity to take up a progressively greater proportion of your life, so it takes time for change to be put into place.

Now, not every missed New Year’s resolution is a sign of addiction. And not every writer’s block is an addiction. Writer’s block can be caused by numerous things, including stress, lack of preparation, physical illness, and drug side-effects. And missed resolutions can also be caused by a whole host of factors.

But figuring out how to navigate those factors is part of making a change in your life. And if you feel like giving up on your New Year’s resolution, maybe that’s just a sign that you should try again, try something else, try something different, keep trying to succeed.

Here’s to a healthy and prosperous new year!