We humans are certainly suckers for ritual. Even if we don’t want to admit it to ourselves, the plump promise of the new year has the internet (and most internet participants) in a tizzy. Ten Secrets to Setting Resolutions That Stick! Lose Forty Pounds in Thirty Days! This Year YOU Can Be a Best Selling Author!
While I am no stranger to the New Year’s Resolution (and Happy 2013, by the way), I think this practice of lumping all the personal change one can imagine on a singular event at the beginning of the year causes more harm than good. Beyond all of the research about habituation taking time to establish (as in: overnight changes are never going to work) and the well-covered New Year’s phenomenon in gyms and fitness centers across America, what I think it ultimately boils down to is this: resolutions can actually inhibit personal growth.
Why? Several reasons.
First, breaking a resolution is a great, super-tangible way to create fodder for self-hatred and self-doubt. If you decide to change your life in August and it doesn’t work out, oh well. If you decide to change your life in January and you make a resolution–you are an objective failure if you can’t make that change stick. Plus, how many of you have made a resolution like “I will write 2000 words a day in 2013, just like Stephen King”…and have have dropped it by the end of the first week? Or the end of the second day? Oops! How awful must you be if you can’t even stick with your resolution for seven whole days!!
This kind of negative self-image is a HUGE problem when it comes to actually making changes because a big part of successful positive growth is believing you can do it in the first place. When you break a resolution, it’s much easier to treat the your behavior as objectively bad–and much easier to convince yourself that you are, objectively, a failure. Trust me on this one. (Unless you’re writing a book on 101 ways to feel miserable about yourself, in which case, carry on.)
Also, goals can be missed and resolutions can be broken–and that kind of binary approach to personal development legitimizes giving up. If you say to yourself, “In 2013, I am not going to eat any more cookies,” and then you slip and eat a cookie on January 24th, it’s going to be really easy to say, “Fuck it! I am going to eat all of the cookies.” And then, despite your good intentions, you’re actually going to have consumed more cookies in January than you did during the entire span of last year. Whoops!
Now, I am not going to say to never set goals ever! because that would be silly, and most of us know that goal-setting can be a productive motivator to actually getting things done. But, what I will say: be careful. Perhaps declaring a non-binary focus for your growth this year might help you keep coming back to what you’re hoping to achieve. If you say to yourself: “This year, I am going to focus on choosing to write instead of choosing to spend time watching Netflix,” you might have a little more wiggle room than if you said you’re never going to watch TV again, but this kind of approach doesn’t allow you to toss out the entire premise the first time you give in to Breaking Bad…and you might still be consciously making that choice to write come June.
And, lastly, look. When you make a pile of New Year’s Resolutions, especially around something that’s as important to you as writing, or your book, or whatever, you’re stacking the odds against yourself though sheer numbers. When you pile all of your personal change into a single DAY, it’s hard enough to remember what you’re going to do, let alone accomplish it. There are 365 days in most years. There is no reason–except social convention–to supercharge January 1. What about February 1? What about next Monday?
Do yourself a favor and allow yourself to change dynamically over the course of the year. Something I have learned well during my process of personal development is: change takes its own time. You may not even be ready to figure out what the hell you want to do in 2013 at this point, and that’s okay. There’s this idea that you should be able to 1. Identify what you want to do and 2. Execute it at the start of each calendar year, and I am going to call bullshit on that approach. Don’t let the things that matter to you fail because everyone else is beating a path to the nearest treadmill (or keyboard). Be patient with yourself, and be flexible with yourself. There are a lot of days in a year, and just as many opportunities for change.
And, plus, no one ever wrote a book in a day. Or built Rome, or whatever. There’s 358 days left in 2013. You have plenty of time to achieve your wildest dreams. Promise.