Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why We Love and Hate Resolutions

A Personal Perspective: Happy Quitter's Day!

If you quit your New Year's resolutions today, don't feel bad. You're in good company. There'll be lots of people missing at the gym today, others who'll be pouring those mixed drinks they swore off, and others breaking their computers on their knees as their dream of writing the Great American Novel falls apart.

You've got to give the resolution lovers credit: They're trying to tell death where to shove it. In their healthiest forms, resolutions challenge death's inevitable limitations and finality with a renewed exuberance for productivity, fulfillment, and progress.

Yet this resolution-signaling, look-at-how-much-I'm-doing-this-year-to-step-up-my-game is toxic positivity run amok, a covert belief that I'm so unacceptable or unworthy that to look at myself in the mirror or for others to love me, I must change.

Enter the gleeful resolution haters. They give the middle finger to death and its chortling insistence that it owns you. Not impressed or convinced by the grandiose and manic energies of the resolution lovers, resolution haters make modest goals. They're keener to embrace the process and see what unfolds rather than demanding death to exact one less pound of flesh.

Yet, they have their own shadow side: a covert fear that the grandeur of dreaming big isn't really possible. Resolution haters betray a shadow cynicism masquerading as enlightened realism.

Both sides of the resolution divide play out a national ritual, not unlike our polarized politics. Are you on the side of life or the side of death? In truth, both sides are trying to resolve the paradox of living with and in between both.

Aside from this life or death dilemma–as if that weren't enough–what else fuels the massive energy of resolutions? New Year's is one of the only truly universal rituals we've got left. While we can't yet all agree on climate change or anything else that seems to affect us as a planet, most of the world acknowledges the centrality of the Julian calendar, even with a host of other lunar calendars waiting in the wings.

Both the resolution lovers and haters are on to something. It's wise to keep striving to progress and live beyond our fears of death, and yet it's also compassionate to accept that we are limited and acceptable no matter when the time comes for us.

We could best take a lesson from poetry. The line break is both the end of the line—an echo of death itself–and the springboard to that which is life itself. Happening somewhere between the lines, we often find enjambment, hesitancy, and propulsion that happens when a sentence continues over the line break and into the next.

Maybe in that creative space, we can find a place for the resolution lovers and haters to meet and reconcile. Or as Rumi said: “Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.”

More from Michael Alcee Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Michael Alcee Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today