New year, same me: the myth of resolutions

Photo by Casey Gomez

For the first time in a long while, as the countdown ended on Dec. 31, I was not committed to any new change.

When well-meaning friends and strangers attempting small talk asked me what my resolutions were over the next two weeks, I wished to boldly state my no-resolutions position and launch into the following rant, but I usually just mumbled something about getting more sleep and moved on.

The societal pressure to improve — or at least try to do so for a few weeks before giving up — is stronger during this month than any other time of year. And it is precisely now when many of the resolution-adopters are probably realizing that their goals, which  seemed so within reach two and a half weeks ago, are now either too difficult or cumbersome for them to stay the course.

Many of the most commonly adopted resolutions are often motivated by societal ideals: promising to go on a diet or go to the gym everyday to achieve the thin or chiseled body society deems as beautiful. New Year’s nearly seems like an invention — or at least a marketing scheme — of the health, fitness and self-help industries, as they profit off people’s often ill-fated good intentions.

About 80 percent of people fail at their resolutions by the second week of February, and only eight percent of people succeed at their resolutions. The language of theses two commonly cited statistics demonstrates the perfectionist attitude surrounding resolutions: you either succeed or you fail.

Allowing no room for mistakes — which can be some of the richest learning experiences — is a limiting, discouraging framework. Just this morning, I received an email linking to an article titled “What to Do If You’ve Already Failed at Your New Year’s Resolution.” If we shifted our societal mentality to one focused on progress or net growth, instead of this pressure-filled dichotomy, I could bring myself to support the yearly push for resolutions.

The arbitrariness of Jan. 1 as a time for change still bothers me. I would rather set new goals whenever I see an actual need for improvement than on the turn of a calendar that we have collectively deemed as a time ripe for change.

The idea that we all need to improve at all is a bit troubling and again mostly aimed at selling consumers more products or improving workers’ productivity. This concerning example of a holiday being morphed and twisted in a direction away from relaxation and towards financial gain is not unique to New Year’s. Perhaps, before long, gyms and smoothie bars will be open for extended hours on New Year’s Day to accommodate the resolution-makers in a way not dissimilar to the annual frenzy of Black Friday.

Regardless, if you survived 2017, you are probably doing just fine. Sometimes taking good care of yourself means simply accepting where you are and complimenting yourself on what you have already accomplished. Just because your accomplishments do not fit into a stereotypical list of what the popular culture has deemed to be important does not invalidate their worth.

If you are still chugging along at a resolution, more power to you — but I will keep high-fiving myself for going to class and flossing my teeth, and maybe I will set some goals on a random Tuesday in March.