Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

Open Frame: Re-Imprinting Technique Tips
January 9, 2009

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

by Carl Buchheit

Recorded and first published in 2008

Ready to take on the New Year? Looking for some inspiration? Or are you reluctant to consider New Year’s resolutions? Carl responds to questions about resolutions, and how they can be seen and used in a new way for effective personal change and growth.

Note: The following transcript is edited for clarity.

Question: Why don’t New Year’s Resolutions work? And what’s the difference between a “resolution” and a “Re-Solution”?

Carl: First I think we need to notice that sometimes New Year’s resolutions do work. They work just often enough to give us the idea that this year they might work, too. If they never worked for us or anybody else we probably wouldn’t bother with them—except that we probably would because they’re mainly designed to produce good feelings about the future and take pressure off of the present. That is, they’re not actually intended to change behavior or revise capability in any way. So New Year’s resolutions do work if what we want is a better feeling about a possibility in the future. They rarely work if what we want is different behavior in the future.

The main reason they don’t work for most of us most of the time is because the New Year’s resolution operates by imagining a different future and then putting that future into conflict with the version of us who is doing the imagining in the present. In other words, as soon as we make a New Year’s resolution we have at least two of us there: the one in the future behaving differently and theoretically behaving better, behaving more responsibly, whatever it might be; and we have the present person who is imagining that better future. We have a problem; we have a conflict. We have attempted to ally ourselves with the future self against the present self. Or, perhaps we’ve tried to take our present self and get sneaky in some way and imagine that we will overcome that present self and thus produce a different future self.

In either case, this generally doesn’t work. With any luck we’ll forget the New Year’s resolution as soon as possible, or at least arrange to forget it as soon as we can after the new year so that we get away from the conflict, because the conflict is quite painful and that experience of internal conflict—of actually being at war with ourselves—is also kind of damaging. It reduces our morale by making the future a less positive place as a result of past failures to make that future better. It’s kind of a complicated business.

The difference between a resolution and a re-solution is the difference between doing something that actually works for New Year’s and doing something that seems like it’s supposed to work, but is not actually intended to work.

A re-solution is something that does not set a future plan against a present reality. It doesn’t create a conflict. The word solution comes from a Latin word which just means to loosen. So let’s think about solutions as activities and choices that loosen things up. A solution loosens up our reality, loosens up the steadiness or the predictability of our present experience to some extent. And then if we can find a re-solution, we can create a new solution—a different solution. If you pronounce re-solution properly you get the word resolution, but I think it’s much more useful to put a hyphen between the “re” and the “solution” and make the word re-solution.

A re-solution presupposes that the old solution was in fact a solution, that it was the very, very, very best solving of a past difficulty or a past situation that our system could find. A re-solution respects the past solution. A re-solution includes the past solution as the pathway, as the vehicle that gets us to someplace new and different. With a re-solution we’re not asking ourselves to overcome or defeat or declare victory over the past. We actually allow the past to be that which gets us to the present, which gets us to the future, which allows that unwanted present to become a past that changed. I know that gets kind of complicated, but it’s actually much simpler than it sounds.

If we make a resolution, we’re saying “I will defeat myself after January 1st,” I promise. If we create a re-solution, we’re arranging to use our experience now as the basis for something different in the future without creating internal conflict, without having to ask ourselves to defeat some part of us so that the rest of us can win. And when we defeat some part of us, who is it exactly that wins, anyway?

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