Have you failed your New Year’s resolutions yet?

New Year's ResolutionsNew year. Again. Resolutions. Again. Failed… again!

It fascinates me the power attributed to the passing of one year to the next. The New Year clearly brings about a sense of new chance, a start over, a clean sheet, pointing perhaps to the cyclical nature of endings and beginnings in life. And with the New Year comes the ritual of trying to let go of the failures and shortcomings of the past, and the desire to focus on the promise of an ideal future as if we’re given another chance. Then comes another set of New Year’s resolutions (how much do they resemble the ones from the year before?)…

But who are we kidding? Isn’t a new year’s resolution an enlarged version of the ‘I’ll start my diet on Monday’? And when Monday comes and you can’t help but eat that piece chocolate that tastes like heaven but makes you feel like hell, the rest of the week is written off and you promise to start again next Monday, or the next, or the next… So really a new year’s resolution is but a statement of the procrastination we exercise yearlong.

We all know what we are lacking, what we need improve and look after in our lives. We know we need to lose weight, and for that we must eat more healthily and exercise more. We know the people in our lives we must pay more attention to, and the relationships we must work harder to improve. We are fully aware of the books we wish to read, the courses we want to take, or the bad habits we have to change in order to become a better person. But why don’t we then? Why wait until the New Year to make a promise that will be broken with the same easiness and speed as they are spoken. If we know what we need to work on, why not do it now?

Easier said than done, isn’t it? The reality is that we carry in our minds an ideal version of ourselves, crafted throughout the years, created in the image and likeness of those we admire, love, envy and fear. This Ego Ideal, as Freud called, is an image of our perfect self towards which we aspire, but it can acquire both an inspiring and tyrannising purpose. Our inner ideals can lead us to a healthy pursuit for the better, but it can also crush us under the cruel reality of our failures and shortcomings, be them real or imaginary.

So really, why punish ourselves every year with ideals we know we won’t achieve? Because we can’t help it. It’s within our nature to have things to aspire, and to have things to feel guilty about. We have in us instincts that lead to improvement and development, and instincts that lead to self-defeat and destruction. The challenge then is to stop attributing responsibility to a calendar, and take ownership of the fact that in life there will always be things to improve, to work on, as much as there will always be things to feel bad about within ourselves. But there will also be numerous chances to learn from our failures, shortcomings and to work towards developing the bits of ourselves that need improvement. And this is a minute after minute chance, not just every New Year. So, what stops you from starting now?

If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.

Happy New Year!

Allan Gois – Psychotherapist LondonPsicologo Brasileiro em Londres