Dear Lauren,

I know it’s not a very Jewish thing to make New Year’s Resolutions, but I made one. And I kept it really well…until now. I’m finding my commitment waning, and I’m so upset with myself!

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

Actually, making New Year’s Resolutions is a very Jewish thing. It’s probably the most Jewish thing you could do! True, January 1 doesn’t hold special significance for us as Jews, but examining our behavior and making resolutions in an effort to improve ourselves is what living a Jewish life is all about. So kudos to you for making a resolution to improve!

A very Jewish idea is to take time each day to do a “soulful accounting.” This involves sitting quietly with yourself, paying attention to what your goals, dreams, and aspirations are, assessing whether those ideals are truly what you want to do with your life, and then determining how close you are to those goals and what is keeping you from achieving them. I challenge each of you to sit (quietly, with no phones, no texting, no computer) each day and just think: “Am I living the life I want to live? Is my life as I’m living it now confluent with my goals, dreams, and aspirations? And what do I need to do to get myself heading in the right direction?”

The first question I would ask myself, if I were you, is: “Is the resolution that I made one that I actually want to keep?” Sometimes we make resolutions that really don’t match with our value systems. We make them because society pressures us to do so (like losing 20 pounds when we really don’t feel we have to), because we think our friends won’t like us if we don’t do whatever it is (like buying a fancy car when we’re happy in our ’89 Nissan), or because it’s “just what everyone does” (like resolving to eat more kale when it makes us gag).

If the resolution really is one that you, after reflection, believe is important and valuable and necessary for your life, then the second question is: “What is the reason that am I not doing it?” If you hate kale, eat raw baby spinach instead. Or cantaloupe instead, which offers the same nutrients as the leafy greens. If you’ve resolved to lose weight and you actually really do want to, you have to dig deeply into your psyche and figure out what part of the weight loss process is tripping you up. Do you eat when you’re nervous, lonely, bored? Address those emotional issues instead of finding comfort in food. Are you depriving yourself of food, only to overeat later in the day when you just can’t take it anymore? If so, make sure to eat small amounts so you don’t get to the starving point.

If you’ve resolved to stop smoking, but your boss makes you so nervous that you’ve just got to bust out of the office for your cigarette break, maybe consider talking to your boss or switching jobs or figuring out how to deal with horrible people, instead of just lighting up. Figure out the root cause of your not keeping your resolution, so that you can decide how to recommit to your goal.

A really important rubric for this process is to do it all with immense kindness to yourself. The other night we were taking pictures of each other, and one of my daughters said, “Ew! I look so weird in pictures.” I put my hands on my hips, shook my finger at her, and said, “I don’t let anyone say mean things about my kids.” Of course, when she realized I was pretending to discipline her for bullying herself, we both burst out laughing. But after I finished laughing, I got mock serious again and reiterated: “Don’t let me catch you beating up on my kid ever again.” And even though the harshness was an act, the sentiments were true. Why should I allow anyone to bully my daughter—even my daughter herself?

If we build ourselves up, we have a much better shot at success.

We do this to ourselves all the time. We say to ourselves, “I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not handsome/pretty enough. I’m not accomplished enough.” We beat ourselves down, and then we expect to be strong and full of vitality to keep our resolutions? If we beat up on ourselves, we will be weak and defeated and give in to our temptations. But if we build ourselves up, we have a much better shot at success. The self-talk should change to: “I can do this. I am strong. I am capable. I am a warrior.”

We once owned a children’s book called “Little Pig is Capable.” And that saying became a mantra in our family. Whenever a child would accomplish something, we would say, “You see? Little Pig is capable!” If we build ourselves up with our self-talk, we’ve become our own best friend, our own cheerleader, our own coach, our own sponsor. If we become our own judge, jury, and executioner, we’re going to kill our spirit. And broken spirits have a hard time keeping resolutions.

Last week, I took myself to Florida for a few days. I really needed a break to rest, exercise, and read, so I could come back a better mother, a better friend, a better wife, a better therapist. My son who is away at school called while I was walking on the beach in the sunshine, and when I told him where I was, he said, “It’s so good that you allowed yourself that vacation.” God owns us—we don’t own ourselves. We have to take care of the entity that God created. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be in a better position to be strong enough to keep your resolutions.

If I were you, I would frame my resolutions in the most positive way possible. If you want to lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, be kinder to your siblings, figure out what part of that process can make you love it. Maybe if you eat only what you’re “supposed to” each day, you can reward yourself. In years past, I’ve paid myself $20 a day for each day I stayed on my diet, then used the accrued funds to buy clothes or shoes for the newly lithe body I found myself in after sticking with it long enough. Maybe if you exercise in a dance class you love, you’ll enjoy the process and be able to stick with it. Maybe if you exercise by biking outside, you’ll love it enough to keep to it. Maybe if you stop smoking but start singing instead, your mouth won’t feel as deprived and you’ll stick with the process and kick the habit. Maybe if you take your siblings out to the movies and you all have a great time, it’ll be easier for you to be kind to them. Find positive ways to frame your resolution so you don’t have to just white-knuckle it to the finish line.

Finally, ask yourself, “What do I really love? What makes me feel alive and whole and healthy and well?” And make sure to incorporate that into your process. Instead of depriving yourself, give yourself more of what you want. Before I went to Florida last week, I was feeling really overwhelmed and unmotivated. I went to the beach and the warm sun and the fresh air, and wrote out a schedule for my days for when I went back home which incorporated all the parts of life that I wanted. I wrote in time for family and time for friends and time for exercise—and I had to decide what to cut out of my schedule to accommodate those important life goals. Make sure you’re doing enough of what you really love, what really gives you a feeling of vitality.

If you do all this, I think you might have an easier time sticking with your resolutions.

Happy New Life!