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Ten Bucks Says Your New Year’s Resolution Will Fail

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By Joshua Hooberman, Ph.D on January 2, 2012

We ran this post by our resident clinical psychologist, Dr. Joshua Hooberman, last year at this time. But he still thinks you’re likely going to fail miserably, human nature being what it is. So here we go again.

Happy Resolution Week!

If you’re unfamiliar with this non-Hallmark Holiday, it’s the week following the new year, in which resolutions are stridently followed. I witnessed this last year when I went to my local gym on January 2nd, only to find that I had to wait in line at my favorite machines behind several new faces with thick waistlines and too-tight spandex. Thankfully, this phenomenon lasted no more than 3 days.

If you are like most people, I am sorry to say that your New Year’s Resolutions will likely fall on its portly rump faster than you can say “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” In fact, some estimates suggest that at least 80 percent of resolutions will fail within six weeks.

While there is something to be said about using the natural start of a year to delineate a personal change — “out with the old, in with the new” — I have never been a fan of these resolutions. I see the Resolution as the snake oil of behavioral change, offering the promise of rejuvenated health and happiness with the gulp of midnight champagne. In reality, it is just a line in the sand that does nothing to actually effect change beyond the magical belief that a turn of the calendar actually effects human betterment.

This is the myth of change; that it is easy to alter staid patterns of behavior. Sadly, change is hard, and it takes internal effort and motivation. Basically, it sucks.

In the psychotherapeutic setting, I have often sat across from a new patient who is primarily interested in a quick fix or magical pill that will relieve all of his or her ills. Just recently, a patient who was feeling despondent and fatigued, and who is concurrently on antidepressant medication, told me that he was seriously considering taking testosterone shots to give him a boost of energy. This seemed to him a better solution than considering the psychological underpinnings to his distress. Personally, the idea of looking like a roided-out freak seems like it would offset any positive quality from juicing up.

Nonetheless, you can’t blame people for wanting this, since it seems like there is too often a new drug or method to lose weight, or commercial about Jimmy Johnson’s boner size, all of which attempt to sidestep or deny that people generally just feel bad about themselves or their current life conditions.

To me, these erection drugs and other health miracles are deflating (pun intended). For better or for worse, humans are complex. I will say it is for the better, as wouldn’t life be dull if we were simple machines that were easy to figure out? As a psychotherapist, I certainly see people change, but it is a process — a process of getting to understand oneself, how and why one reacts in certain ways and in certain situations, and then begin to take control or gain autonomy over our feelings and behaviors. This often takes months, if not years. Even though we hate aspects of ourselves, they are still part of us, and it is not so easy to say goodbye to aspects of our internalized selves, good and bad.

Don’t get me wrong: Setting goals is a good thing. I would never discourage people from setting them. If somebody proclaimed to me “2011 2012 is the year I want to lose 100 pounds,” I would support them wholeheartedly. I would also talk about strategies, possible barriers, and most importantly, I’d examine what meaning their eating and weight has for them. They’re called “comfort foods” for a reason.

Furthermore, there are different types of resolutions. Saying, for example, that you will start recycling your newspapers this year is much different than saying you will find a spouse and start a family in the coming year. One is much more emotionally laden (I know, throwing away newspapers can be sad!).

So go ahead, make your resolution — but be aware of all that goes into it. The turn of the calendar will not necessarily remove your neurotic impulses and create more internal motivation. The best suggestion I can make for a New Year’s Resolution that will help you get on the right track is this: Resolve to reflect on yourself and your life more than one time at the end of the year when the champagne is flowing.

Josh Hooberman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who works at a large Manhattan hospital and keeps a small private psychotherapy practice. He probably thinks you’re crazy.

(image via Steve T. Conroy; smoking guy photo via Astragony)

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