Against New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. People who need to make them are either not committed enough to make the desired change, or have no strategy for effecting the change, thus ensuring failure.

It requires serious dedication to break a bad habit and reforge a new one. Not a vague, whimsical suspicion that one’s life could be conducted more effectively. Good intentions are not sufficient to promote real life change. One needs to have a daily strategy for handling things differently, and  the motivation to persevere through the discomfort that invariably accompanies any genuine attempt to break a habit or shift a problematic paradigm. A resolution simply isn’t good enough.

Now I admire any attempt to live more deliberately and to strive for continuous improvement, but a once-off, ill-considered promise to oneself hardly constitutes an effective plan.

If you have something on your life that you think needs to change (and we all do), then don’t wait for the new year. If it is worth changing, it is worth starting now. And it requires planning. Real change is a battle, and a battle is only won through good strategising.

For example, try to understand why the bad habit exists in the first place. The chances are that there are psychological underpinnings that would need to be addressed if you really wanted to break that habit.  Refusing to do so would merely be addressing the symptoms.

You also need to understand that any big problem is usually the result of a large number of small, problematic decisions that are made on a daily basis. Likewise, cultivating a virtue is not a matter of making one grandiose gesture. It is the product of habitually making small decisions and performing minor actions daily that cumulatively lead to the desired end. One does not become a loving father, for example, by buying one’s child a pony or a trip overseas. One does it by daily devoting small amounts of time and energy to one’s child. And in our frenetic world, where all sorts of urgent things place demands on us, finding that sort of time requires planning.

In addition, it helps to have some sort of accountability structure in place. It is easy to choose not to go to gym today and promise yourself that you will make up for it tomorrow. Positive change is never easy, and when the going gets tough, it is easier to persevere when you have somebody pushing you on. Sometimes gently, a little more forcefully if necessary. Sadly, too often we don’t want friends to tell us the truth, even when it hurts. We prefer the company of those who validate our excuses to ourselves and who leave our worldviews unchallenged.

That’s why I urge you not to be a resolution person. You would never try to build a new house, undertake a major career project, or invest your life savings without some sort of planning. Certainly you would not try to do those things alone. You would consult relevant experts, gather the appropriate tools, and allocate time and resources as required. Why should the truly important things in your life be treated any differently?

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