3 Ways to Make Resolutions That Stick (Maybe?!)

by Rev. C. Perry Dougherty

I am trying to think about ways to counter my tendency to break new year’s resolutions.

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As a blizzard turns my windows opaque, blows the finest of snow through the space under my front door, and freezes the pipes ever more deeply, I am amazed at how quickly resolutions can loose their zest and fervor. It's like the rush of a dog dashing out the door and then quickly realizing home is pretty safe and comfortable.

As the ball dropped and the new year’s sun rose, I was charged with the fury of hope and the fervor of rebirth in making my resolutions. Today, however, I hunch my shoulders, drop my head, and seek safety in the familiar rituals and patterns of my living.

It can’t just be discipline and willpower that make us keep our resolutions, I think.

Quite simply, I’m tired of the notion that discipline is the answer; it seems an incomplete analysis of how we live into our aspirations. As I am writing now—half in prayer and half in dogged commitment to discipline (one of my resolutions is to write daily)—some basic insights land:

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Everything has a shadow.
  3. You can’t build without a foundation.

I reflect on these little clichés and try to apply them to my resolution conundrum.

Keep it simple.

A resolution need not be a command or a to-do item or a lifestyle revolution that is predetermined and planned. Instead maybe we can choose a theme, something memorable and resonant, to explore. What happens if we simplify our lists of goals into a mantra, a word, a phrase, or a guiding force of some kind. Simplicity may, in fact, give us more room to explore.

My resolutions this year started with things I want to do:

1. I want to write every day.

2. I want to exercise four days a week.

3. I want to meditate, chant or pray three times a day.

In coming up with these, I seem to have set up each new activity to, in some way, counter a shame-filled, self-loathing thought I have about how I spend my time today (Buddhism calls this dukkha or the root of all suffering).

  1. My mind is cluttered and spinning, BUT by pouring things out on the page, I will become more productive, aware, creative, and eventually I will be a world renowned published author known for her candor and ability to capture the chaos of the mind on the page.
  2. My body is achy, rigid, tired, and underused, BUT with my new disciplined exercise routine guided by Sean T and the Beachbody crew, I will unlock the creative, nimble healing powers of my body such that I will see myself as strong, sexy, and capable of anything again, and all those I meet or even pass in the street will see me in the same way.

I could go on, but you get the point. In this way, failing at my resolutions is a set up for affirming those shame-filled, self-loathing thoughts.

No wonder I feel dismayed!

That said, as I look at my list, there is a deeper thread or theme: I am seeking to lean more on creativity in my mind, body, and spirit; I want to unlock the creative potential I have within. For the sake of keeping it simple, I settle on a phrase: harness creativity


Everything has a shadow.

All things in our awareness have an opposite or opposing force. We seek creativity because we identify with entropy. We know joy because we have felt pain. We understand the feeling of nervousness because we have felt calm.

As this idea relates to resolutions, I think it might mean that it is useless to pursue our hopes and intentions without an acceptance that they carry opposing forces. No amount of discipline will destroy the shadow—it just is part of the whole.

All of my resolutions point to desires to live lightly and brightly and with newness. But in making them to-do items, I forgot to honor the journey I’ve been on to become aware of such desires. To honor that journey means to make space for the despair, fear, and dullness that I also know. If I check back in with my mantra—harness creativity—I can see that it allows me to hold both, to live with both, and to see all sides clearly.

My to-do list resolutions may try to hide the shadows from which my hopes have come, but my mantra says: "Come on board, hope and hurt, light and shadow. Come all of it."


You can’t build without a foundation.

For many years, I have lived, taught, and supported people in getting to the root of a sense of purpose. The primary tool is asking, “why?” Not just once, but asking "why?" again and again in response to each answer until arriving at a more core and purposeful place. 

To make resolutions that stick, I think we might need to use this same strategy. Here's how that looks for me:

Why harness creativity? Success, recognition, inspiration, glow, enlightenment!

(this "why" leads to the to-do list; and while its true, it is also filled with dukkha.)

Why all those things? I feel stuck, afraid, trapped, and dull.

(I'm mindful of not shaming myself...)

Why those feelings? I have been fighting my instincts. I am fighting against my sense of wholeness in pursuit of success and getting it all done.

(ah ha! See what happened here?)

Why? Because I forgot what matters most to me, maybe? Because what matters most to me is to have faith in life as it is—to believe that I and all of us have within us a sacred life force that will sustain and connect and allow us to thrive. And 2017 was hard on this belief.

(and here, I believe, is the foundation of my resolution.)

This is a foundation I can build upon: to engage in that which nurtures my exploration of and faith in this greater belief of a sacred life force and to do so starting with my own mind, body, and spirit.

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And with that, I invite you to have a chat with yourself about the resolutions you have made. Perhaps you might use these tools to free yourself up to explore into them more deeply so that they will last the year and beyond.


May you relax into simplicity, relish in the light that allows you to see your shadows, and stand on your foundation today and always.