Why Your New Year’s Resolution Is Rooting Against You
I love sports because with each new game, teams can wipe the slate clean and start anew. Hope springs eternal when the score is still tied 0-0. Unfortunately, in our day-to-day, we don’t have the crisp bounds of an opening whistle and a final buzzer to contain our efforts. We have to manufacture our own rallying cries, and officiate our own lives.
And this is never more apparent than on January 1. In fact, a calendar flip is so crucial to the narrative of change and rebirth for us that the new scribbles we etch are called resolutions. Resolutions! Think of the pressure that carries.
Resolution: A firm decision; determined.
What we’re all hoping for in our resolutions is that the inspiration we’ve acquired throughout the previous year can finally manifest itself as surety on the first day of the new one. But there is no surety in life—no matter what day—only stimulus and response. Therefore, we need courage.
Because with choice and action come the impediments of inertia, information and indifference. In other words, once we start, results are harder than we realized, they don't look like we imagined, or they're not received how we hoped.
It's why 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February; because coasting downhill on the novelty of change can only get us so far. Eventually the road flattens out, or rises, and we need actual fuel in our tank to keep going.
What is “fuel” in this analogy? Skills. Habits. Discipline. Self-control. It has nothing to do with motivation.
Lasting change is hard. You won’t just magically go to the gym today if you haven’t built up the fortitude to do things that are uncomfortable. It’s not about going to the gym, it’s about going to the gym even when you don't want to.
After all, commitments are commitments until they can be rationalized as otherwise.
Human life, it seems, is just one grand rationalization.
So what should you do if you are trying to enact change early this year?
Don’t just focus on the what or the why. Focus on the how. How are you going to motivate yourself to exercise, to not eat that cake, to save more, write more? How are you going to do it when the tide of who you’ve always been is pulling you back out to sea?
And here you’ll find that it’s a game between you and you; about inching your way closer to becoming a person of your word, about proving to yourself that you can reprioritize things. It’s about running tests, seeing what works and what doesn’t. It’s about learning your tendencies and how you handle stress. It’s about incremental changes to your input, not your output.
When a resolution is only a result, i.e., I want to lose ____, I want to accomplish ____, I want to get ____, I want to save _____ dollars, we forget that, as of late, the human being who is supposed to attain those things does not have, or has not been showcasing, the skills and habits needed to do so.
It’s like we’re trying to drive a concept car that only exists in CAD.
So instead, focus on who you would need to be and what you’d need to do differently to have a chance at what the resolution represents. Think about things as, “I’d like to get better at ____,” or “I’d like to be someone who exhibits self-control around _____.”
A New Year’s resolution is as much about self-discovery as it is self-actualization. We just hate thinking of it that way.
As the saying goes, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” so it is true for our yearly resolutions, “It’s the process, not the promise.”
One Last Note
It’s a shame that we tie our age to the “year.” We’d be better served—and have 12 times more chances at big change/resolutions—if we focused on months. Or imagine focusing on the earth’s rotation instead of its revolution.
I say this partly in jest but also to remind you that although we make yearly resolutions, change is enacted on a daily basis. So if things do fizzle out before spring, remember that any day is a worthy day to start being the change you want to see in yourself. Yes, it will take work. Change will always take work.
But don’t let time go to waste solely due to how we mark the passing of it.