I admit it. I did not make any New Year’s resolutions this year. Or last year.
Or the year before that. Some people may find it helpful to have a symbolic marker for the personal or interpersonal changes they would like to make, but for me, it doesn’t seem to be a good way to make meaningful, lasting change in my life.
That is not to say, however, that I don’t need to change some things. There are many things in my life I’d like to do differently: be more organized, eat healthier, be more patient. But resolutions seem too fleeting, too emotional, too tied to the whims of New Year’s Day to make it through the long months of January, February and March. For me, resolutions come easily; real change, however, takes work.
The components of real and lasting change — commitment, honest self-reflection and accountability — can begin at any time in our lives, but they aren’t easy. I’m often asked if I believe that husbands who batter their wives can really change. I do believe that can happen, but I also know that it takes hard work over time, like any lasting and meaningful change. And that’s harder than simply making a New Year’s to-do list.
Real and lasting change requires commitment. But emotional commitment is only part of the answer. Guilty feelings or enthusiastic anticipation may be powerful motivators to begin the process of change, but those emotions don’t last over the long haul.
Change requires the commitment to continue to do the work, even when the enthusiasm fades or the guilt abates. Making a commitment to change is less a feeling than an act of will, and for most of us, for the really big changes in life, it means making the decision over and over again until it becomes part of who we are.
This type of commitment requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves about what is holding us back from becoming who we want to be. What do I want to change about myself and my behavior? What are the things getting in the way of my change? What will I give up if I change the way I behave? If asked and answered honestly, these questions are likely to be painful for us; painful in ways that make us yearn for our old, comfortable, if unhealthy, patterns. But commitment and its partner, accountability, can help us work through the challenging days of change when what we really want to do is stay in bed with the covers pulled over our heads.
I heard a friend say recently that while she had not made any New Year’s resolutions herself, she had committed to help a friend keep hers. That’s accountability. Finding a person or a community to gently, but firmly hold you to the promises you make to yourself or to others is critical to help sustain change.
Accountability can help us maintain the commitment and manage the difficulty of honest self-reflection. Whether our change begins at New Year’s or next week or next month, it will require commitment, self-reflection and accountability.
Hopefully, our physical and emotional selves and our relationships will be healthier in the long run.