Today I made a January 7th resolution to go bouldering at the gym two times a week once I get back to school.
What’s a January 7th resolution, you ask?
Well, it’s like a New Year’s resolution, except instead of making it on January 1st, I made it on January 7th, because that’s when I thought of it. It’s like how last year I made a November 23rd resolution to stop overanalyzing my conversations. Or a few years back I made a St. Patrick’s Day resolution (it was a strange year) to begin learning how to play guitar.
Statistically, only around 9% of people who make New Year’s Resolutions actually end up doing them. Clearly there’s something a little bit wrong with this. Now, New Year’s resolutions have been a tradition for a long, long time, and I am in no way saying that people shouldn’t make them. Rather, I think there is an issue with the rest of the year: the other 364 days that we usually don’t set lofty goals and ambitions for ourselves.
I know I usually have a pretty good idea of things I would like to achieve. The things I would want to make a habit, the skills I would want to learn, experiences I’d like to have, et cetera. But for many years I would let them sit in the back of my mind, either too busy or too comfortable to even begin pursuing them or making an effort to transform them from just thoughts to a real, tangible lifestyle. I remember because I would always repeat the same phrases in conversation: “I should really start going to the gym again” or “I probably should get started on doing [insert activity here] more regularly”. I realized that whenever I used the word “should”, I was acknowledging the fact that I wanted a change, but simply telling people of my positive desires seemed to alleviate the urgency of the matter. It was like I was writing a post-it note reminder for myself later and then patting myself on the back for it. I was rewarding myself for recognizing parts that needed change, and then continually disregarding the actual change that needed to happen.
See this in yourself, maybe? That’s because it’s actually a legitimate psychological phenomenon: announcing your goals gives you a “premature sense of completeness”, along with a bit of pride that allows you to lose motivation.
Of course, every time Christmas rolled around, the same question began to circulate around various parties and get-togethers: “Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for the upcoming year?” And you bet I had a 5-star answer ready to go every single time, because I’d been practicing them over and over again throughout the year. All those “should” statements slowly transitioned into “I want to” statements, or, if I was feeling extra audacious, “I’m going to” statements.
“I want to practice piano more”, I would say. Or “I’m going to eat carbs only once a week” (this one was a straight up lie).
I suppose it’s a good start to know what you want your New Year’s resolutions to be. The big issue was that I had way too many of them. Each year I would collect five to ten resolutions (I’m talking ambitious goals) by the end of December. I had let them all cram together and start at the same time, so they ended up overwhelming me. As soon as I got to January 2, I would give up on at least half of them. It was simply too much to try to work on so many parts of myself at once when it was enough trouble to do them one at a time.
Eventually I got fed up with my lack of progress and decided to do away with New Year’s resolutions, or at least the overarching emphasis on them. The idea that a new year is a magical time full of opportunity is nice and perhaps a good way to get yourself motivated if you’ve been in a slump, but the truth of the matter is that opportunity lies just around the corner, no matter what time of the year. It exists in next month, when your schedule isn’t that filled up yet and you can make a time commitment towards a habit you’ve always wanted to create. It exists in next week, because you know what each weekday will be like and it won’t be as scary to plan accordingly. It exists in tomorrow, if you’re feeling a burst of inspiration and it just can’t wait until next Sunday.
Don’t overdramatize it, though. To envision yourself having a clean start is a noble and ambitious mindset, but it is tiring and emotionally taxing to convince yourself that all your previous mistakes and bad habits were just a phase, and that you’re stepping into “the real you” now. It is even more noble to accept your previous lifestyle as part of yourself, and just live as though you are learning and improving upon it.
And best of all, the opportunity to make a change and get started on your goals is here today, where the ideas and concepts you have for your brand-new life are all fresh and ready to be acted upon. Don’t wait until tomorrow to start. No matter how small of a step you decide to make today, it will still be there the day after. If you want to pick up drawing, sketch something before you go to bed tonight. If you’d like to eat healthier, fix yourself a salad today. If it’s hard, tell yourself that it’s just for one day. You can even just write it down somewhere that you made a new resolution that you’d like to work on tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Because even if it’s small, you will be satisfied at the accomplishment and hopefully motivated to move forward from there. Continual microscopic actions create truly macroscopic change, and this is a surefire, if not the only way, to actually achieve your New Year’s resolutions.
Nowadays I have a bit more trouble responding when I’m asked about my New Year’s resolutions. The goals I used to have piled up are slowly being worked on (or given up on; you can’t win ‘em all) as I make my way through the year, and by the time I get to December 31, I only have a couple left to share. Which is fine with me. I’m glad to know that I still have some things to call New Year’s resolutions. Because while the tradition itself may not be completely effective, the sentiment is still there. And in the end, that’s what the Christmas season is all about. A time to celebrate the truth, followed by a time to explore the unknown.
What a wonderful time to be alive, wouldn’t you say?