How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions

As I thought about New Year’s Resolutions, it occurred to me that they often derive from some negative way that we see ourselves. I spend too much money; therefore, my resolution is that I will save more. I am 10 pounds overweight; thus, I will exercise more and eat healthy. I work too much, so I resolve to spend more time with my family.

New Year resolutions  The problem with these resolutions is not only that they come from some judgmental part of our self-image, but that they are hard to keep. We all have trouble resisting temptation. A recent New York Times article (Link to Article) states that by January 8th, 25 percent of resolutions have been broken and that by the end of the calendar year, less than 10 percent have been kept. So, do we need to have more control, be more determined? Or do we need to make different kinds of resolutions?

One of the problems with being more determined and trying to have more control is that our resolutions are about a future goal, and when it comes to a choice between immediate gratification and delayed improvement, immediate gratification is more likely to win. Do I want that piece of cake now or do I want to run on the treadmill and struggle to lose those ten pounds? Most people choose the cake. And in fact, for most people, self-control diminishes over time.

People are more likely to put something or someone ahead of their own desires when they feel pride, gratitude or compassion. It is emotions such as these that encourage people to think about the future and put it ahead of what they can get today. So if trying to use willpower results in stress, feelings such as pride and compassion can actually lead to a more positive outlook, better physical health, and an even greater tenacity in tackling tough problems.

So how about these as your New Year’s resolutions…a different way to try to better yourself, and to increase your feelings of pride, gratitude, and compassion?

First, think more about others than you think about yourself. Every time that you think about what you want, what makes you happy, or what is meaningful to you, think about those same things for other people. What might those with less advantages be thinking about, what would make them happy, and what would be meaningful to them. In this way, we can all become more empathic and spend more time putting ourselves in others’ shoes, understanding how others feel. And a little more empathy will go a long way toward making the world a kinder, better, more peaceful place.

Second, give more to others than you give to yourself. When you see a sweater, or a book, a piece of jewelry or sports equipment that you would like to own, vow to spend an equal amount of money on others. Donate that amount to your favorite charity, the religious institution of your choice, or your nearest homeless shelter (and believe me, there is one near you!) There is no right or wrong place to give your money. Just the act of giving to others, or to larger causes, can help us to focus our energy on things that will help make the world a better place. It will also help us to pay attention to what we spend on ourselves and perhaps, create a little less selfishness or materialism.

And finally, do more for others than you do for yourself. Whether it is cooking a meal to put in the freezer at a shelter, tutoring disadvantaged children, singing at a nursing home, or creating a new program at your local church or synagogue, giving of your time to others will not only make you feel good about yourself, but will expose you to new experiences. And as you broaden your experiences, meet new people, and help others, you do indeed feel better about yourself.

And isn’t that what New Year’s resolutions are about?