Should I Make New Years Resolutions: Heinous, Helpful, or Healthy?

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how to make healthy new years resolutions

Is it just me, or are New Years’ Resolutions getting a bad rap this year?

Anne Lamott is inviting people to go on a not-diet with her in 2016, and Monastery’s Glennon Melton is celebrating the Best New Year’s Ever: “don’t try to be better. Just notice that it’s good enough already.” Nicole Walters, writing for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics, says that this will be A Year Without Resolutions for her, too.

Now, I have my own complicated relationship with new years resolutions and how I wrestle with it as a Christian (for example, here), but this year I sense a real rejection of the idea of resolving to make changes: rather, we should love who we are, be grateful for what we have, give thanks for what is, pause to notice the moment. And I, along with hundreds of thousands, click “like” on posts like that, because I whole heartedly agree that gratitude, and contentment, and grace, are Greater Goods than any (wo)man-made to-do list.

But (and I like big buts. I cannot like)….

BUT… surely not all acts of resolve are bad? Isn’t repentance—that most fundamental decision we make to follow God rather than our own selfish selves—a kind of resolution? And isn’t it one we keep doing anew: “forgetting what is behind, I press on,” we repeat… each time with resolve. And isn’t the decision we make to keep loving our spouses with small, daily acts of kindness, because we promised to “for better or for worse” a resolution, too?

This past November, knowing that I had a hectic month ahead, I made some New Month Resolutions, as it were: I knew the month would swallow me whole if I didn’t not practice some radical self-care, and so I decided I would prioritize:

  1. getting 7 hours of sleep a night,
  2. making sure I made time to read my bible in the morning before my children awoke, and
  3. getting at least 3 slots of 20 minute exercise in. (To you gym bunnies, I know that seems paltry, but it’s amazing to me that I can be “on the go” all day, but seldom actually “work out”. So this seemed doable.)

And you know what? I am SO GLAD for those resolutions: they helped me set priorities each day, and keeping those basics in place gave me fuel to cope with the rest of the stuff the month threw at me. Just like I was taught to do in business, I made measurable, attainable, and specific goals (7 hours of sleep, as opposed to “sleep more”), and I think I, and my family, were better for it.

Getting more sleep, and more exercise, and more time in Scripture, are three of the classic that seem to appear on so many people’s resolutions… and they seem to be quintessentially healthy goals, right? So why all the disdain for resolutions this year? Why the pushback against making good changes?

I’ve been mulling this over for a couple of days, and I think the difference between a healthy and a heinous New Years Resolution has to do with why we make these resolutions. If we start out a new year acknowledging goodness in our life, and our innate worth and dignity as persons, and we say to ourselves “hey! My body matters and I’ve been treating it badly of late. I would like to show myself more kindness and sleep more,” I think that decision comes from a place of health. Resolutions which acknowledge the pre-existing VALUE of a person or a relationship or a thing, and then resolve to make decisions which express that value are healthy ones. So, because my marriage is important, I want to choose to make more deliberate time to spend with my spouse. And because my friendships are important, I resolve to send a text to my BFF once a week just to stay in touch. And because I believe that there is nothing more important than nurturing my walk with the God who loves me, I resolve to make time in my day to talk with him.

But resolutions which are based on a belief that our current state is unacceptable, and that we need to do something to MAKE ourselves acceptable, are where the trap of deceit lie. The resolution which says “lose 5/10/20/50 lbs”, because we believe we are unacceptable and unlovable at our current weight and need to lose that weight to become acceptable bodies: these are the damaging ones. The resolution that says “spend less time on social media”, and relies on internal guilt and shaming because “Facebook is evil”, is not starting out from a position of health. Wouldn’t it be better to reframe those things as: “my body is a gift – I want to eat healthier to honor that”? and “my family and friends are important to me – I want to prioritize being present with them and will turn off my phone during meals.” etc.

I do think that Anne Lamott and Glennon Melton are on to something: making resolutions which seek to whip ourselves into shape is just like feeding a Guilt-Monster and letting it wait in your closet to jump out and frighten you.

But acknowledging the goodness of what we’ve got, and the value of who we have, and the importance of the God who made us and loves us: these give us a safe place to rest, but also a really safe place from which we can make better choices, no matter what day of the year it is.

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11 thoughts on “Should I Make New Years Resolutions: Heinous, Helpful, or Healthy?”

  1. “But resolutions which are based on a belief that our current state is unacceptable, and that we need to do something to MAKE ourselves acceptable, are where the trap of deceit lie.”

    And that’s the thing I see in a lot of resolutions. “If I do can only achieve my goals through a New Year’s resolution, then I will find the acceptance I don’t deserve without fulfilling my resolutions.” Thanks for laying it out so clearly, Bron.

    P.S. You know that the only resolution I’ve made is 2000 years old, right?

  2. I love this. I am a great believer in NY Resolutions and always set about 10, of which I usually keep or achieve about 3. I have never managed to say no to seconds, for example. I understand the backlash this year but I also find the opportunity to try to change myself too good too miss.

    This year, I have changed it slightly and I am setting quarterly goals, instead of goals for the whole year. They’re mainly running based (obsessed, sorry) but also include reading my bible daily, growing my knowledge of classical music etc. I’m finding this quarterly thing really motivating – it feels so much more immediate than December. I’ve also promised myself a prize if I do them all, like a preschooler basically.

    But I have also come to understand that none of my resolutions/goals matter. I am not in charge of my life and my days, and that has freed me up to play at improving myself, knowing that my actual self is safe in his hands.

  3. I have a love-hate relationship with resolutions, too. Honestly. I love to make them, am such a planner at heart. I seriously love New Years, filling up the a clean planner and a fresh journal. But last year felt like such a failure for me in so many of my areas I wanted to grow. It is such a SUBTLE shift into a rule of life and focus on one word this year instead of resolutions. I still am hoping to change, actually more so this year. I am just trying to focus on what I want the end result to be instead of goals. For example, I want to be more prayerful at the end of the year but am not setting hard and fast definitions of what it will look like and I feel like that is giving me freedom to play with something. If, a month in that doesn’t work then I can reevaluate. Maybe it’s just linguistics but the shift is helping my spirit feel a bit more free this New Year. (But I won’t judge you for making resolutions, haha!)

  4. I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions for a long time, because they haven’t worked terribly well for me. I do notice, however, that I am more motivated to make changes in my life on January 1, and your thoughts on the whole resolution thing are interesting. I’m speaking on Friday on a closely related subject, and, if it’s ok with you, I’ll use this post to inform my thinking. Thanks Bronwyn.

  5. I’m not making resolutions this year. In the past I’ve disliked the idea of resolving to “do” something on a particular day — if one wants to be healthy/read more/sleep more/love more/etc., why not start the very day that desire is born? But last year I had an aha! moment about why New Year’s resolutions are so powerful. The idea of a clean slate with a set reference of time is really appealing. But nonetheless, I’m eschewing resolutions this year. Sounds like you’ve set some good ones for yourself, and I have no doubt you’ll achieve them all!

  6. I love resolutions! Fun to make and dream and achieve… or even half achieve! I do them from a hope-filled place in my heart and not a guilt-filled place. Re-vision is good for me!

  7. This is exactly what has been on my heart for the last week or two. I am normally immune to the resolution craze, but this year it all had me feeling down and worthless. God spoke to that in various ways, and I sat down to blog about what he’s showing me. I prayed that he would give me the words to express it. I am not sure how I landed here, but God gave me the words in the most unexpected way… he gave me yours. Thank you so much! You’ve done all the hard work of expressing it clearly and writing it beautifully. (Now, I can just link…) 😉

    1. Support

      What a generous and joyful response to “give me the words” 🙂 thanks so much for sharing this and linking!

  8. Pingback: When the Words Come in Unexpected Ways | Continuing...

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