I’m not setting New Year’s Resolutions, and neither should you
The conversation is an inevitable one for many. “What is your New Year’s Resolution,” a familiar voice might chime from the other end of a poignant dinner table, or under the lights of a classy patio as you await the countless performances from Times Square. The voice is unsuspecting, only doing what is expected of them. There is an undeniable truth of this common practice; hidden behind noble intentions to better oneself is a scam, just another “Hallmark Holiday,” waiting to sweep dollars from your wallet to be wasted on gym memberships or supplies to start your daily journal. It’s hard for many to find fault in this seemingly respectable practice of reflection and self improvement, but it truly lies between the disingenuous and impractical aspects of the whole affair.
While the 16th century bore many characteristics that have since passed from our modern world, one obvious similarity remains—the Gregorian calendar system. Composed of 12 months, the year has become the most obvious milestone by which to account ourselves. The years we’ve lived, been married, or graduated—every major milestone of a person’s life is defined by this unit. It seems natural that each year would be marked as a turning point, a chance to do better. In fact, origins of this ideology date back to the Babylonians over 4,000 years ago. Babylonians would seek the favor of the gods by making promises to them and swearing to return borrowed tools or repay their debts.
The issue with this piece of history becoming the origin of this modern convention is this: the Babylonians didn’t make promises rooted in self reflection and the intention to change, but rather to please a god and reinstate their standing. In the case of the Babylonians, the debt and tools they carry are physically paid and returned, but their moral character remains unscathed, or rather, unshaped. The Babylonian’s practice does not focus on how one can change from within, but rather externally. And so, the rift emerges. The modern practice derived from an ancient promise leaves many believing that once a year we truly learn from our mistakes, and strive to be better.
If one walks through life, only seeing the next year as an opportunity to change, they are wasting countless hours. The idea that a person can learn from their mistakes of the past year is valuable, and worth acknowledging, but studies have shown that most New Year’s resolutions are abandoned within a month. Since the New Year is seen as such a grand milestone, many people attempt to choose a resolution with that same grandeur. People seek to change their entire diet, save more money, or start a spiritual journey. It’s uncommon to hear a resolution that is small and extremely specific. In fact, when I hear people relate their small, seemingly trivial goals, I often ask myself, “Is that it?” This practice has become so commercial that it’s left individuals feeling pressured to only instate goals of a certain caliber. So while the purpose is moral, the practice remains pointless. The current system begins with a lofty goal that culminates in a relapse to one’s old ways, and then you wait for the end of the year when the cycle begins again.
It’s easy to think of the impracticality of the cycle when related to a tower made of wooden blocks. Each action we make has consequences, and when a mistake is made, a wooden block falls. Now, we could walk through life choosing to rebuild our tower as the pieces fall, gradually learning from our mistakes, and fulfilling small goals to avoid those same actions, and ultimately keep the tower intact, or we could simply ignore the fallen pieces until the year ends, and along with everyone else we attempt to rebuild our tower in its entirety. Making New Year’s Resolutions is like the latter. We have an opportunity to rectify our mistakes and learn from them each day, but many pass it by simply because they have been trained to think big: big milestones, big goals, and big results. The truth is that our smallest behaviors have ripple effects, and there are immense benefits to thinking small. Instead of reviewing the contents of a year in one fell swoop, it’s much more valuable to get in the habit of setting small goals, based on simple mistakes. Smaller goals are easier to reach, and instead of releasing a disappointed sigh when you realize you haven’t been to the gym in a week—even though your New Year’s Resolution was to go every day—you’ll be smiling as you press send on the email you said you’d write before class.
Setting small, practical goals more frequently throughout the year will most likely account for a greater change than the larger than life resolution set on January first. Smaller goals are easier to complete, and when completed they often instill a sense of accomplishment, and inspiration to set a new one. Someone might want to go on a run every day, even though they prefer walking. Instead of setting a resolution to run every day starting at the beginning of the year, it would be much more practical to think small scale; perhaps they go by week. The first week they might just resolve to walk each day. Maybe next week they aspire to run just once. As the weeks go by, they might discover that running four times a week and walking three leaves them feeling satisfied, and doesn’t seem too overwhelming. By starting small and gradually building, it’s possible to test our limits and discover a balance in our life instead of taking a plunge and then instantly drowning in the pressure and guilt when becoming overburdened.
Most golfers can recount an instance where they struck the ball poorly. A miss-hit sending a drive straight out of bounds, or a chip that skids across the green and dribbles into the water hazard. It’s frustrating because every shot counts, and for many it feels as though one mistake can ruin the entirety of the round. One of the most well known professional players, Ben Hogan, once said, “The most important shot in golf is the next one.” The ideology behind New Year’s Resolutions invites one to look upon the next round as their opportunity to succeed, but Ben Hogan preaches that we should focus on the present task at hand. Instead of letting a single shot ruin the entire round, Hogan recognizes the value in every opportunity. So instead of setting a grand resolution as 2021 comes to a close, each of us should resolve to refute this modern practice and instead see each month, week, and day as an opportunity to set small goals that will insight greater change in our lives.
To read more articles by McKenna McKrell click here