New Year’s resolutions. Ugh. Do you make up rules that you break within days, hours or minutes? “I will not eat sugar, all year, or maybe never, starting now.” It lasts until you crave, or hunger or question, “Who created this stupid rule?”

Susan Lebel Young, a retired psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, is the author of three books. Her latest is “Grandkids as Gurus: Lessons for Grownups.” Learn more at or email

It happens to everyone, I assume, at some point, that moment when we say, “I’m not doing that.” Rebellion starts early as we separate into our own person. At 2 years old, we resist the advice of others at our first inkling of, “You’re not the boss of me.”

For many of us, self-determination appears in adolescence, when we realize we are not the same person as those people who have been in charge of us.

For some of us, stepping into ourselves and out from those who raised us comes later; our independence, creativity, our deciding our own values, which may or may not match what we had learned. It might go like this: “Everyone in this town plays golf. Not me.” Or “Everyone in this family attends Mass every Sunday. I’m not going anymore.” Or, “My high school friends are going to college. Higher education? Not for me.” Or, “I know I could have a secure future in the family business in Maine, but I’m moving to New York City to be a Broadway actor.”

Telling people can be tough. They offer their fears: “You’re converting to Judaism? What if there’s another Holocaust and they come take you and your family?” Or, “Really? You’d rather be an underpaid teacher than a doctor?” Or, “Social work? What do you know about helping people?”

No one directly makes you wrong, not exactly, but you understand what they mean when they say, “But you’re not good at painting, or writing, or acting.”


You don’t have answers for the doubters. They might even be right that you have no idea what you are doing. But being good at what you choose for yourself wasn’t ever the point. I am thinking of the quote by Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, physicist, religious philosopher and master of prose: “The heart has its reasons that reason does not know.”

So, there’s that; the difference between what the heart wants and reason. Which leads us back to New Year’s resolutions. The voice in us that invents rules can trigger the same “I’m not doing that” rejection that we have practiced since our terrible twos. We vow, “I won’t eat sugar. I will exercise every day.” Then, because those voices are not the boss of us, we inhale a pan of brownies and blow off the gym. But the pendulum swing to New Year’s rebound-rebellion against our concocted rules is not freedom and not aligned with why we made the rule in the first place. Maybe we wanted greater vitality. Maybe we ached for less self-judgment. What was our goal? What was our big “why?”

This year, what if we adopt the words of 13th-century mystic Rumi? “No more advice. Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.”

Even telling ourselves what we really love can be tough. We might meet our own inner doubter, the voices of fear saying, “Really? What if…?”

Maybe in 2023 we resolve not to make ourselves wrong any more. Maybe if we let ourselves be drawn to the reasons of the heart, we don’t need resolutions, rules or advice, even our own. Maybe we need deep inner listening for the feeling of the pull toward what we really love.

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