New Year’s resolutions unresolved

Alli Arnold for the boston globe

By this point in the nation’s dysfunctional relationship with New Year’s resolutions, the gloomy statistic is well known: Fewer than one in 10 people make good on their promises to themselves.

But how, exactly, does a resolution go bad? Is it like Natalie Portman tells Jude Law in the 2004 Mike Nichols film, “Closer” (albeit about cheating with Julia Roberts, not blowing a resolution to be more organized)? “Oh, as if you had no choice. There’s a moment, there’s always a moment: I can do this, I can give into this, or I can resist it.”

Or does a resolution go bust the same way Mike Campbell goes broke in the “The Sun Also Rises”? “Gradually, then suddenly.”


Several weeks into resolution season, therapists, self-help authors, certified life coaches, gluten-free manufacturers, fitness-monitor makers, health-club publicists, professional organizers, work-life balance gurus, personal trainers, online matchmakers, image consultants, stylists, wellness experts, anti-aging hucksters, and diet professionals who make up the resolution-industrial complex have explained — and explained — why we’ll end up needing to make the same resolutions next year: We set unrealistic goals. We don’t plan. We don’t really want to change. We quit too easily. We focus on outcomes instead of behavior. We let ourselves fall for hope in a jar. We’re lazy, darn it.

Alli Arnold for the boston globe
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All true, of course. But to borrow from Tolstoy, all failed resolutions fail in a different way. How, precisely, do things go bad? With Dec. 31’s giddy promise giving way to January’s cold reality, let’s start with Lauren Beckham Falcone , on-air personality at WROR’s Loren & Wally Show.

“I decided to give up bread — the whole ‘wheat belly’ blah blah blah,” she began. But on Jan. 2, Falcone found herself staring into the fridge, her glance skimming the lettuce and landing squat on a loaf of what is widely recognized as “bread.”

“But you have to understand this bread,” she said. “It’s hardly bread. It’s mostly nuts and cranberries. Super foods. So I convince myself that the bread is not bread, then I toast it and put some butter on it.”

After the “bread” was consumed, Falcone eventually accepted it for what it was, but then gave herself a second out: “There was a snowstorm, so what I ate didn’t really count,” she said. By her math, the following Monday, Jan. 6, was the true Jan. 1.


“But on Monday, I came face-to-face with a hot dog,” she said. “I could have eaten it bunless. But I asked myself: Do I want to be happy, or be bread-free? It was YOLO [You Only Live Once] versus Weight Watchers.”

Victory: YOLO.

Donna Colquhoun, a nurse practitioner, saw her 2013 resolution, to go credit-card free, doomed by a hot-water heater. “I was only going to buy things I could afford,” she recalled as she strolled the Shops at Prudential Center recently. That meant paying in cash.

But then the water heater broke, and Colquhoun was hit with a bill for $564 she didn’t have in cash. So even though she considered the home repair a legitimate use of a credit card — “We had to have hot water” — it turned out to be a gateway swipe.

“What’s $30 more? Or $40? Or $50?” Colquhoun would ask herself as she started charging gifts, clothing, and dinners out. “You get in that mindset like I already have a balance,” she said. “A charge may be only $30, but it adds up, and you’re back in credit-card debt.”


Zayna Gold, co-owner of the Boston Body Pilates group of local studios, not only sees clients’ resolutions going bust, she’s watched many of her own fail too.

Her doomed resolutions always follow the same pattern, she said. Starting midweek, she feels her willpower starting to weaken. To prevent “bad” eating, she loads up on “so-called” diet or healthy foods at the grocery store. “You know those Skinny Cow ice cream desserts? I would buy those, but then I’d eat the whole package. Or I’d eat tons of air-popped popcorn. Or 100-calorie almond packs. Those are the devil. I’m convinced they’re only for skinny people.”

Lane Turner/ Globe Staff
“You miss [a workout] one or two times, and it spirals out of control,” says Stacy Baertson of Pembroke.

From the “healthy” foods, Gold said, she’d move on to fattening foods. “My diet would spiral out of control from there.”

As for her studios’ members, many sabotage their resolutions by taking an all-or-nothing approach. “They resolve to work out twice a day,” Gold said. “They are all in, then two weeks later they are so exhausted that they get sick and they don’t work out for months.”

Stacy Baertson, an executive assistant from Pembroke who vowed to get fit last year, wasn’t done in by exhaustion — but by the siren call of friends or even work. She joined a gym in the Prudential Center — a mere elevator ride away from her office. At first, she was good. “I was going four times a week.” But then, shy of the two-month mark, doing something, anything, else began to seem more attractive than the gym.

“You miss one or two times, and it spirals out of control,” she said. “I’m a major creature of habit. Once I break a cycle, it’s broken. Not going replaces going.’’

She eventually gave up her membership — but then rejoined. Only this time around, she said, it is decidely not part of a New Year’s resolution. It’s part of a wedding resolution. “I’m getting married in June, and I’ve got to fit into the dress.”

Scott Montminy is also trying to get in shape — and also avoiding the “r” word. “Have you ever lied to yourself so many times you can’t look at yourself in the mirror?” he asked.

“I’m trying to drop a few pounds, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it’s a New Year’s resolution,” said Montminy, a vice president at InkHouse Media + Marketing, and a morning traffic reporter for NECN. “I can’t take myself seriously anymore. It’s almost like I need to sneak up on myself.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.