I have a confession to make.  Outside of my work life, I am not an organized person.  I like being neat, but being neat and being organized are not the same thing. The only reason why I’m (moderately) organized in my work life is because I have to be.  The administrative aspects of my work life that require organization are my least favorite parts of the job.  My home life, on the other hand, can be described as organized chaos.  may know where the food clips are located, but no one else does because my system makes no coherent sense.  It is not an inherently organized system.  Over the past year, I’ve seen how my disorganization has impacted my family in a negative way, so I decided that I would lay it to rest.  Once and for all.

I made a New Years Resolution to become more organized.  Especially in my home life.

The experience of making this New Years Resolution has made me ponder why certain resolutions fail. Today is January 4th, so my resolution is young and I still feel hopeful.  I realize, however, that this resolution is going to take a lot of painstaking work.  I really enjoy the end result of being organized.  It’s wonderful to know exactly where everything is.  But the process of getting there is, to me, painfully tedious.

Resolutions are a wonderful thing.  They’re personal goals that essentially push us to become better people.  But why do we fail to keep them?  And what can we do about it?

1) We make resolutions that are unrealistic and unsustainable.  A popular resolution, for example, is to lose weight.  But do people really think through what that means?  In our short sighted resolution frenzy, we tend to crash diet and go on various “cleanses” that usually leave us feeling famished and miserable.  Consequently, how we went about the resolution backfires on itself and we binge eat to compensate, then end up gaining, instead of losing weight.  It may not be sexy or immediately appealing, but if weight loss is the goal, a more sustainable way to achieve this is to make healthy, moderate, lifestyle changes.  If the goal is to lose the weight and for it to stay off, crash diets rarely achieve this.  We also have to consider how other things factor into our body and our weight, not just limiting the scope to diet and exercise.  For example, what is a healthy weight range for your body type, age and gender?  How do other factors, such as genetics, medical conditions, sleep and stress impact our weight?

The point is, the reason why many resolutions tend to be unrealistic and unsustainable is we don’t think through the details that can help the resolution become a lifestyle change, not just a short term fad.  Resolutions require an approach that’s both holistic and realistic.

2) We don’t really want to make that change, or we’re not ready for it. Using the weight loss goal as an example again, we may set out to lose weight, but we don’t really want to exercise more, or give up certain foods, or manage stress better—the list goes on and on.  Otherwise, wouldn’t we be doing it already?  So before making a resolution, ask yourself how badly you want to make that change.  What kind of things are you willing to change or sacrifice to make it happen?  Just as important, what kind of things are you not willing to do to change? For example, you may be willing to eliminate soda and bagels from your diet, but you’re not a morning person. So, you know you cannot be the person who wakes up at 5 AM to workout before work. That’s just not going to happen.  And that’s OK!

Or, if you feel ready to make the change but you’re not sure how, shifting the focus of the resolution may be helpful.  So instead of focusing on the numbers on the scale, making a resolution instead to participate in three exercise classes that you enjoy per week.  Taking “weight loss” completely out of the scenario and focusing more on something positive and healthy can make that shift happen more easily.

3) We don’t make the resolutions for ourselves.  Again, using weight loss as an example, we’re much less likely to lose weight and keep it off if we’re doing it just to look good for someone else.  Research shows that when we are motivated by intrinsic factors, or things that motivate us because they’re near and dear to us, we’re much more likely to change.  Conversely, if you’re losing the weight to feel more comfortable moving around in your body, or to meet a goal of running a 10K, that will spark you to get up out of bed at 6 AM to exercise much moreso than just looking good for someone else (who may not even notice your hard work to begin with).

4) The resolutions are consistent with our deeper values. The resolution is to make more money, for example, is not a bad resolution.  But is it really consistent with who you want to be as a person?  Is it in line with what your core values are?  For example, you want to make more money so you can put your child through college, because he/she is getting close to that stage of life.  In this case, the time and extra sacrifice may be worth it because you’re doing this for someone you really love, and you want the loved one to be an educated and successful person.  In that case, the resolution is more likely to succeed. In that case, it’s feeding your values of wanting to be a good and supportive parent. On the other hand, are there things you would have to do in order to make more money that would go against your values?  If so, should the focus really be on making more money?  If the extra money is not an absolute necessity, is it worth the heavy price to pay of going against your values?

So here are a few solutions that may help you follow through on these pesky resolutions:

1) Make a monthly resolution, not a yearly one.  Human beings are inherently short sighted.  We like immediate gratification. Looking out over the course of a year is way too long for us.  However, making a  resolution that would need to be met over the course of 30 days can more easily be done.  If the resolution isn’t met by the end of the 30 days, you can use the end of the month to ponder what thwarted its completion.  Was it realistic?  What is something you really wanted to do?  Or do you simply need more time to achieve the resolution?

2) Shift the focus inward. Resolutions mostly seem to focus on things we can see, things on the outside (ie, weight loss).  But what kind of internal resolutions do we make?  Can we resolve to become more creative over the next month?  Can we resolve to find practical ways to stay more calm in traffic?  Can we resolve to “unplug” from our phones in order to reconnect with family for one day a week?\

3) You may fall off the wagon. You may temporarily fail to meet your resolution.  You may miss the mark.  Just because you had a cheat day, for example, does not mean you need to throw away the entire resolution.  Resolutions are hard, and you’re going to make mistakes and not do it perfectly.

4) Look backward, as well as forward.  Jews celebrate their version of the New Year over Rosh Hashanah, which falls every year roughly in September or October. This holiday falls shortly before Yom Kippur, which is a holiday requiring the Jewish people to atone for their wrongdoings. It is no coincidence that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall closely together. In order to atone for wrong doings, they must ponder how they “missed the mark” over the past year, and think about what they need to do differently over the following year in order to be the person they want to be.  In other words, they make spiritual New Year’s resolutions.  Perhaps we can use this line of thinking in making (secular) New Years Resolutions.  To make a resolution that is really meaningful, we are called to look back over the past year and think about how we failed to be the people we wanted to be.  After that, we can then face “forward.” We can then think about how we want to spend the next year in a different and more positive way.