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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


As we usher in the New Year it is once again that time when many of us make promises to ourselves to turn over a new leaf—to remedy past ills or do things that will improve our physical or emotional health. We call these resolutions –the vows we make that social science tells us are typically quite short lived.


I asked the owner of my gym about this as many folks sign up for new memberships on or around the New Year.  He confirmed that by March the majority of those new members fall off and I can attest to it from personal experience; a lot of new faces and not so new physiques for a few months most of which are gone with the first signs of Spring  So, why do we do this, make promises we ought to know we will not keep?


I’ve taken to calling these vows Irresolutions—weak, vacillating intentions that we’ve made because we think we should but for which we lack any real conviction.  Yes, in our nobler moments we fully intend to live up to our promises until we are confronted by reality. Change, as we all know, is not easy.  But we swear, this time it will be different, we’ll do what we said we would, and the payoff will be worth it.  Except the payoff is in the more distant future, while the challenges are in the present.  


Students of change management stress some fundamental prescriptions for achieving durable change.  Early wins—signs that we are making progress towards our goals, are crucial to success.  In the early stages of change the likelihood of falling back is high.   Signs that we are on the right path, especially when we are just starting out and even if progress is modest, are a powerful antidote to recidivism.


Probably the most important principles is our buy-in; the degree to which we are truly motivated to change. There is an enormous difference between changing your diet and exercising more—if you’ve been advised your health is seriously compromised versus a decision to lose some weight so you’ll look better at the beach next summer.  Vanity is a motivator but for many not of sufficient urgency and gravity to prompt a commitment to change. Give up smoking--sure. We know that we should, we know the risks, but just one more before we quit all together can't hurt, right? Consequences matter, so the more significant they are the greater the chance we will stick to what we’ve vowed, but again it isn't easy and we are just kidding ourselves to think so. Realistic goals from day one can help. For some it is going cold turkey, for others it is slow steady progress and focusing on what you have to gain rather than what you're giving up.


That said, even the most motivated of us have moments when we are weak, and tempted to give up.  Unless you are unusually strong willed, positive reinforcement is another of those so important tools to help us through the rough patches. Having someone other than yourself to whom you are accountable is another way to take out an insurance policy on lasting change of any kind. It helps if those to whom you are accountable are folks whose opinion you respect and value. Fear of disappointing them is a powerful emotion that can help prevent backsliding.  And it also helps if you’ve made your intentions known to an even wider circle, people whose opinion of you matters.  Few of us are comfortable giving up on a promise we made in public. 


With this in mind here are my resolutions for the future, and I invite you to hold me accountable:


Worry less—embrace uncertainty with optimism


Be slow to react—and patient in responding to the people and events I encounter


Laugh more----there are enough tears we'll encounter and cannot prevent, but we can always choose to have tears of joy


Reward kindness wherever and whenever it occurs, the dividends are limitless


The things I need or want to alter in my life are a much longer list of course, but the rewards I’ll reap from these four changes will improve my life in countless ways.  I don’t kid myself—they won’t be easy—but I hope I’ll have your help.   Now, how about you—what are you going to change?

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