Theravive Home

Therapy News And Blogging

January 9, 2019
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

New Year Resolutions: Achievable or Just Magical Thinking?

January 9, 2019 20:33 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW  [About the Author]

Perhaps a resolution is both possible and magical.  There’s nothing wrong with magic per se if the belief in the magic is a force for forging ahead. Will the use of enchantment ensure the getting to where one wants to go?  Be it January 1st, or a personal guardian angel, if that trust in an intangible helper steadies the way, no harm is done.

Is the resolution connected to something that is deeply felt?  If it’s a question of following the crowd just for the sake of following, the disadvantages are inherent. Aiming for something that signifies personal achievement or success helps those who strive get through the difficulties that are bound to occur.

It is tempting to treat the New Year as a blank canvas, to see it as an ideal starting point. Truth be told, there is no shortage of blank slates!.  Keep in mind that every day, even every hour and minute, offer the opportunity to make a change.  The best ally in initiating that change is a belief that change is possible. How to begin?

The ideal place to start is to embrace a nonjudgmental inventory of what seems important enough to you to readjust.  It is a good idea to be rigorous in weeding out the issues that actually belong to others or that have no personal steam behind them.  If it seems that friends or relatives want to weigh in on what is most important, it’s a good idea to keep the goal private until the choice has been made.  Set boundaries and let well-meaning others know that the decision is firm.  This is an announcement, not a request for endorsement.

Plan to focus on the journey, not the destination. There will be setbacks and it would be easy to become discouraged.  Simply starting the endeavor is a huge step forward.  Take pride in crossing the starting line.

It has been suggested that keeping SMART (acronym) in mind will be a useful assistant when making an adjustment.  The “S” stands for specific.  “I want to get thin; save money; have an adventure, and things of that ilk are way too vague.  It might be helpful to make a chart that details the desired outcome and the route that must be taken to get there.  If saving money is the aspiration, steps can be taken to ensure success.  It is possible to arrange for an automatic monthly withdrawal from a checking account into a savings account.  Any schedule or amount that fits into a lifestyle (perhaps, with just a smidge of pain), can work.  The new account must be marked UNTOUCHABLE, even in the face of unexpected claims on monetary resources. When unplanned for expenses tempt tapping into that savings account, discipline is in order.  Once money is removed, it is more likely than not that it will not be replaced.

 “M” stands for measurable.  If it cannot be measured it is impossible to know if the mark has been hit.  Thus, “I want to be more popular” is pretty weak.  It is more effective to set a goal of meeting “x” number of new people, attending a proscribed number of social events, hosting a certain amount of celebrations. Proceeding along those lines will encourage staying in focus.

 “A” is achievable.  Should an uninspired individual, for whatever reason, plan to write a book, it would work a whole lot better if said individual had an interest as well as something to say.  “R” is a symbol for realistic.  It is unlikely that a 5’5” 120 pound individual will be a draft pick for the NFL. Finally,

“T”.  The “T” indicates that a time frame is essential.  If “some day”, “when I have more time”, or “when I’m ready” are the parameters, it is unlikely that efforts, if made at all, will be fruitful.

Resolutions for the New Year are often a reaction to the excesses of the preceding holidays.  The pursuit of superabundance that fuels the quest for festive gratification often leaves the reveler over stuffed, over spent, over stimulated.  The complication that rears it’s head is that it is easier (and in the short-term more fun) to work toward something than to back away.  Success is more likely to be experienced in a commitment to health and/or frugality than bogged down in guilt and shame as a result of overindulgence.

Research has revealed that 45% of the population make New Year resolutions and 8% keep them.  It is helpful to assess where one is in contrast to where one wants to be.  Again, steering toward the positive makes an objective more easily obtained and keeps the aspirant a whole lot more upbeat.

It makes sense to attempt to conquer one goal at a time. Moving slowly and steadily beats taking on one large endeavor that may feel overwhelming and require large amounts of self-denial.  Individuals easily become their own enemy, which results in rebellion against the self.

Rebellion is counter-productive.  It is hypothesized that the need to rebel originates in childhood.  Developmentally, as a child gets older he/she will balk against being told what to do.  This feeling of the need to dissent can be triggered at any age when facing unfamiliar restrictions. 

The problem is that whether the individual is acting out against another or his/herself, it is always a sign of giving away one’s power.  It is always reactive.  A preferred situation is to be proactive — generate one’s own decisions as to behavior and beliefs.

 It is worthwhile to note that each individual is reacting to either their own script or one that has been handed to them.  Holding on to and trusting one’s own judgement is the closest one comes to guiding his/her own destination.  Of course it is wise to be open to learning, but, at the end of the day, self-knowledge is the way to go.

Change is inevitable in the life cycle.  A gentle and patient approach is less jarring to the senses.  Whichever method is explored, be prepared to make a change in lifestyle. If a permanent revision is desired, it is important to keep the change as organic as possible.  Most do not think about brushing their teeth — it’s something they do.  When a new habit becomes automatic, it is safe to drop anchor.




“How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions”


Boxall, T(1/6/18). “The One Thing More Effective Than New Year Resolutions”


Davis, K (1/2/19). “How You Can Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions”


Kulkarni, J (12/30/14). “Symbolic Gestures, Magical Thinking:New Year’s Resolutions”


O’Grady,E (1/1/14).  “The Anti New Year’s Resolution”


 Russell, M . “Are You Rebelling Against Authority?”

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

I bring with me +30 years of experience as a clinician. My Masters degrees are from: Assumption College, Worcester, MA, Master of Arts in Psychology & Counseling/ and Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA, an MSW in Clinical Social Work. This is the 11th year I have written a monthly newsletter that is sent to approximately 500 individuals. The archive can be found on my website,

Office Location:
The OC Building, 11983 Tamiami Trail, N., Naples, FL 34110
Naples, Florida
United States
Phone: 239 293-4314
Contact Ruth Gordon

Professional Website:
Comments are closed