It’s now April, the month where, if they have not perished previously, New Year’s resolutions go to die. That commitment to going to the gym a couple times a week, or that promise to yourself that you’re going to eat healthier, have fallen through as you’ve reverted to life the way it was before winter break. And the reason for this is simple: New Year’s resolutions suck. They have got to be the most ineffectual, half-hearted way of getting anything done ever invented. If you’re seeking to better yourself, a New Year’s resolution is simply not the way to go.
What do we mean when we say resolution? The Oxford English Dictionary defines a resolution in three pertinent ways. The first definition provided for “resolution” is “a firm decision to do or not to do something”. This is the definition probably most frequently associated with a New Year’s resolution — one making a firm decision to change something in their life. However, the Oxford English Dictionary also defines a resolution as “the action of solving a problem or contentious matter”. While the previous definition may have provided the action aspect of the resolution, this one provides the underlying reason. For the most part, our New Year’s resolutions tend to be aimed toward improving our own lives. In a resolution, we make a firm decision to do or not do something because we want to resolve a problem in our day to day actions.
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the New Year’s resolution, however, is what is provided by the Oxford English Dictionary’s third definition, which states that “resolution” is “the quality of being determined or resolute.” And here is what ties the aforementioned “reason” of a resolution to its “action”— the force which compels one to take steps from realizing a problem in their lives to resolving it. And so, the resolution is a three step process — the realization of a problem, the gathering of resolve, and the actual action taken to rectify the problem.
This is where the New Year’s resolution falls short. When one makes a New Year’s resolution, they make it because they have identified a personal failing that they wish to better. And initially, action is usually taken to attempt to resolve it. One who finds they haven’t been reading as much as they like tries to read every day, or one who finds they have been spending too much money might cut back. But after one mistake, these individuals, more often than not, slip right back into old, easier habits. Resolve is lost, and therefore, so is the action of the resolution.
So why even make resolutions at all? What is the point if we are destined to simply fall back and regress into our old ways? It is, however, not the resolutions as a whole that are affected by this loss in motivation, but specifically the New Year’s resolution. It is certainly true that other resolutions that one makes can be similarly affected, but the New Year’s resolution is one that is most frequently affected by this phenomena.
The reason for this discrepancy is because the New Year’s resolution is held up to an unattainable standard. In our modern society, the steps that one takes are often not to identify a problem and immediately seek its solution, but rather to identify a problem and decide to leave its solution until the New Year. It’ll be my New Year’s resolution, we naively think. But in doing so, we put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to fulfill this resolution we’ve decreed for ourselves. It’s no longer just a resolution, but THE resolution. And so, if we screw it up just once, there seems to be no point do doing it any longer. We’ve failed this grand resolution — might as well wait till next year.
It is because of this inherent unattainability that New Year’s resolutions suck. One should not put off dealing with problems or inadequacies in one’s own life until an arbitrary date where we all decide to act on them. Instead, we should focus on dealing with issues in our lives as we notice them. We should pick up that book we’ve been meaning to read that’s been sitting on the shelf for months. We should make that foray to the gym, no matter how hard it may be. But most importantly, cut yourself some slack in your resolutions. If you mess up today, that’s okay. Just resolve to do better tomorrow.
Jake Kalodner | firstname.lastname@example.org .