Here’s a bad joke for all you avid Exponent readers: “A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” About two years ago, I broke this cycle by giving up on making them, just as I had abandoned each of the resolutions I’d made throughout my life. This time, however, there were reasons other than laziness behind my choice.
One key reason for leaving my New Year’s resolutions in the dust was the unnecessary pressure around them. Every time my family gathered on New Year’s Day to discuss our goals for the year, I felt a knot twisting ever more tightly in my stomach. I wondered if I could measure up to my mom’s weight loss scheme or my sister’s plan to learn the clarinet. Hanging out with my friends only yielded more and more ambitious targets for the year. New Year’s Day had morphed into some kind of extreme contest rather than a fun holiday.
Not only had New Year’s become a strangely intense competition, but the time period itself had always been difficult. According to University of Cardiff psychologist Dr. Cliff Arnall, January is the most depressing month of the year. The stress from holiday debt, potential for seasonal affective disorder, and bleak weather all leave us in a funk. Why would we want to kick off our resolutions in the midst of one of the hardest times of the year? We might as well be dooming ourselves to stumbling through all our pie-in-the-sky goals.
Motivation and commitment also play key psychological roles in forming long-lasting resolutions. During New Year’s Day, the pressures of our families and friends provide extrinsic motivation. However, it’s intrinsic motivation, or the drive from within, that make our resolutions successful. We have to find reasons to follow our resolutions within ourselves, or they’re destined to fail. According to U.S. News, over 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail for the simple reason of misplaced motivation.
A final, weirder reason for my abandonment of New Year’s resolutions is the arbitrary nature of time, one of my favorite topics of discussion with my odd, philosophically-minded friends. The Western notion of the passage of time is absolutely demented when you consider how small and insignificant we are within the scope of the cosmos. Our idea of the “New Year” pales in comparison to the grand scale of history. Now, doesn’t that make you feel a little more justified in pressing snooze on your alarm clock?
So, if time is simply a human construct, what’s the point of basing important changes in my life around the tick of a clock? Instead, I chose to make those changes whenever I saw fit. When I decided to start learning a new language, I hit the books (and Duolingo) instead of waiting until a holiday told me to start on my goal. I left the pressures, bad weather and strange motivations out of the mix. I revamped my thinking and decided to base my resolutions around myself rather than the world around me. In the immortal words of the Exponent itself in volume 113, issue 14, “The best time to change your life is literally anytime you decide to.”