Edited By: Tanmaya Ramprasad
At the beginning of every year, many people make a New Year’s resolution list, outlining various personal, career, health, and other goals that they wish to accomplish in the coming year. It has become so common to do this, that if you choose not to make such a list, you’re likely to be deemed unmotivated, lazy, or indifferent. But before I jumped on the bandwagon again this year to sit down and draft up a list of resolutions of my own, I thought critically about why New Year’s resolutions have become such an omnipresent feature of our society, especially when they hardly work for most people. I came to the conclusion that the act of making New Year’s resolutions has some deep and inherent flaws.
- Any day can be New Year’s Day
Most of the Western world decides to celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1 of each year. This is regarded as a time to reflect on the past year, look forward to the future, and make the necessary changes to reach one’s life goals. Reflection and goal-setting are crucial but do not have to be restricted to the beginning of the year. Often, students and professionals in the educational system similarly reflect and set goals for a new school year in August and September, which clearly demonstrates that the timing of our goal-setting should really be dependent on our unique life circumstances, rather than an arbitrary date prescribed as January 1. In fact, one could wake up on the morning of July 17, October 4, or December 29, and very well decide that they want to make some changes in their life. Treating any day as New Year’s Day allows us to remember that the “time is always right to do what is right.”
- Continuity over change
As university-age individuals, we are placed in a difficult position of needing or wanting to constantly seek advantageous opportunities for our careers. This continuous search for better is not only present in our educational culture, but in the media and our personal lives as well. We’re persistently told by self-help books, life coaches, and motivational YouTubers that we should never settle for less than what we’re capable of. Self-improvement has become an end in itself, instead of a means to reach an end. In the flurry of trying to stick to ill-defined and overly ambitious habits and agendas, we often forget why we want self-improvement in the first place. I’d like to make the case that it is often better to focus on the constants in life rather than the change - the positive, consistent qualities about yourself and your life situation that you want to keep with you. Rather than ruminating about how life would look different if you had achieved X or looked like Y or had access to Z, why not take this time to appreciate your strengths, those that you've kept for many years?
- Appreciating who you are in the present
New Year’s resolutions are the ultimate example of goal-setting. While goal-setting outwardly seems like a constructive activity, it can silently tear away at your confidence in yourself, which can even hinder your ability to make future goals. When we set a goal, we frequently say to ourselves, albeit implicitly, that what we have right now is not enough, and that only when we reach certain goals will we appreciate who we are. Having pride in who you are at this present moment in time is a much more empowering feeling than having hopes for who you could eventually become. This is not to say that we should be entirely content with our present self - as human beings, we all have faults and aspects of ourselves that are not so commendable. Goal-setting is such a prominent practice precisely because it allows us to improve upon our shortcomings. However, it should be done in a way that does not negate or underplay the significant virtues that each one of us possesses.
- A laundry list of “resolutions”
There is an underlying assumption when it comes to New Year’s resolutions that we should be drafting up a long, extensive list of such resolutions. After all, we call them New Year’s “resolutions,” plural with an s. I would argue that if one truly cares about wanting a significant, meaningful change in life, one would only have the time and energy to focus on that one resolution. If exercising more was truly and profoundly important to somebody, that would be their utmost priority, and they’d have limited mental energy to care about anything else. As human beings, we have a limited supply of mental resources to allocate to our goals and we only have 24 hours in a day to accomplish them. Having a list of twenty resolutions necessarily means that your mental and physical focus on each resolution is diminished, and frankly, there is hardly any reason to believe that these individual resolutions mean anything of value to you.