Friday, January 02, 2009


My farewell post to 2008 was a bit gloomy. If that wasn't enough, I came upon this article in the New York Times by Alex Williams: New Year. New You? Nice Try.

It starts with Oprah's re-gained weight (please, everyone, leave poor Oprah alone...she's great at all weights). Nail biters, drinkers, dieters, even those with heart disease trying for healthier diets don't make much progress in Williams' article:
“Most of us think that we can change our lives if we just summon the willpower and try even harder this time around,” said Alan Deutschman, the former executive director of Unboundary, a firm that counsels corporations on how to navigate change, and the author of “Change or Die,” a book that asserts that even though most people have the ability to change, they rarely do. “It’s exceptionally hard to make life changes,” Mr. Deutschman said, “and our efforts are usually doomed to failure when we try to do it on our own.”

There are cases cited of someone who vows to learn to cook, and someone who wants to get a drivers' license.

Is it really all that hopeless? Ranting without data, I don't think so. Weight change is hard-- it's a battle against biology. But in the course of talking with patient about their history, it's not so unusual to hear that someone quit smoking or drinking many years ago, or made a change only after years of deliberation. The woman Williams talks about who vows year after year to learn to cook but still subsists on Honey Bunches of Oats--- my guess is she either likes the cereal better or she doesn't really want to learn to cook. Please forgive me this once for discussing the motivations of someone I've never met, but this was hard to resist, especially given my own preference for Honey Nut Cheerios.

Are our efforts to change really "doomed to failure when we try to do it on our own" as Deutschman, quoted above, suggests? I think it's a skewed population: if you vow to change and do, you don't seek help. You don't enter a study. You just make a change.

And your New Years' resolutions?