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Talkin’ Bout a Resolution (Not a Punishment)

Do you tend to make resolutions for the new year? Or do you just let the year unravel as it will?

Either way, then what happens?

For if you take a step back and look at what happens next, there might be important patterns in the way you make promises to yourself (or not) and how you go about trying to fulfill them (or not). And who you see yourself as accordingly.

Anecdotally, apparently many of us will make a resolution, and within weeks we’re ‘breaking it.’

And then what?

If that’s you, will you use this breakage to punish or torment yourself with somehow? Will you feel bad about it? Tell yourself you’re a failure (again)? Will you hurt yourself on the sharp edges of the broken pieces? (And did you have a sneaking feeling this might happen all along?)

If that’s your pattern with resolutions, does it seem familiar in other parts of your life? Where might you have learned this from? When?

And do you inadvertently help set the whole ‘failure’ thing in motion in the first place by picking a resolution that’s too hard to reach? Too much of a stretch. Selecting improbable or impossible things and then inevitably ‘failing.’ (Again)

In fact, when is the moment you actually decide that ‘failure’ has happened?
When is that cut-off point for you?

Maybe you’ve set a deadline along with your resolution. Maybe you’ve even followed the “SMART goals” lore (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time bound).  Yet can a clever acronym or a deadline really capture all the complexity of growth and change?

For what if growth or change doesn’t always plot neatly on a graph or arrive at a convenient moment? What if it isn’t always a straightforward thing, carving a neat diagonal line across the page, moving ever upward and forward?

For sometimes change or growth might go backwards (seemingly). Sometimes it might stumble before it finds its footing. Sometimes the line it takes is more like the zig-zag of two steps forward, one step back.

And sometimes it’s hard to really measure at all…

I’ve been gardening a bit more lately, and noticing the way the plants grow. There’s poetry, not clipboards or charts. Unfolding. Leaning into the sun for nourishment. And parts that naturally die away when the time comes.

So, again, when do you generally decide you’ve ‘failed’ to meet your resolution?
Two weeks in?
A month or two?

And is it really ‘failure’ or just a zig-zag? Something taking its own time. Finding its own way.

Are your expectations (of you, and maybe even of change itself) simply too high? And if they are, how can you encourage them to be a bit more grounded?

One idea is to soften the language you frame them in. It sounds too simple to work, I know, but it’s a part of CBT and narrative therapy (and a host of other therapies) that’s surprisingly strong.

So what would it be like, instead of resolving that,

“This year I will ____”,

to instead try on:

“This year I’d like to ___”
Or “This year I’d like it if _____”
Or “This year I’d prefer to ______”
Or “This year I’ll make a start on _____”?

What if your resolution was less about achieving tasks or following patterns of punishment, and could sort of be an invitation instead?

What would you like to invite more of into your life?

How could you make a little more space for that stuff?
How might you encourage or nurture it – in you or your relationships or your surroundings?

Suddenly, this resolution business sounds less like a chore. Perhaps even less like something that you can break. And more like something you can grow


Photo: Creepygirl578

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.

Talkin’ Bout a Resolution (Not a Punishment)

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2010). Talkin’ Bout a Resolution (Not a Punishment). Psych Central. Retrieved on March 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Dec 2010
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