Endings and Beginnings

As I settle back into class and work after the winter holidays, I think a lot about the past weeks and the future and many other things, too, which I suppose is customary and altogether rather unsurprising during this time of ends and beginnings.

One thing on my mind is a beloved holiday tradition, New Year’s resolutions. What about them? Well, let’s see…

Why make them? Why not?

This question sprouted quite recently, growing bigger and taller with the El Niño rains and every encounter with yet another person who asserted that no, they would not be making New Year’s resolutions.

For me, resolutions seemed natural and desirable, a way to cleanse and brace yourself anew for the looming tribulations of work, school, health, love, and food among other things after several weeks of festive gorging on sleep, presents, family time, and good food. It’s the last bit of “me-time” — in a way, also the first, and self-reflection is thought to be good for personal development.

Intrigued by this lack of interest, and the necessary question it begged, I conducted some research on this yearly practice.

Background

A good place to start any investigation is the statistics. Interestingly, only about 45% percent of Americans usually make resolutions. The percent of Americans who never make resolutions are only slightly behind that number at 38%. The rest simply infrequently made resolutions.

I was rather surprised. I had thought making resolutions was a more common practice than the numbers suggested. I plugged on, my curiosity whetted even more.

I found plenty of articles espousing sagely advice on how to stick to one’s New Year’s resolution, such as this one. I also learned about its possible origins, which have been traced back to Ancient Babylonians making promises to their gods and to Ancient Romans swearing oaths of loyalty. But one that especially caught my interest was a TIME article warning about the harmful effects of making resolutions.

According to the author, New Year’s resolutions are a trap. They promote a cycle of failure and coping, resulting in low self-esteem and worsening the original condition that the resolution-maker wished to improve. They apparently also anchor people to believing that they can only change around a certain time of year, which robs them of a chance to initiate change continuously so that they can at least “fail better.” Lastly, vague declarations of change may stand in place of the action in the mind of the promisers, which serves to deviate from their journey to change even further.

Change for the Better

It’s compelling, but I was forced to view it with some skepticism. Failure to meet one’s resolution does not have to doom us to a never-ending spiral of plunging self-esteem. The TIME article author only used rather extreme examples such as binge eating or quitting a drug/alcohol addiction to illustrate her point. Also, New Year’s is not the only time I see people attempting to make a change. It’s certainly one of the most popular times, but I see the effort as coming out of convenience (we’re all rested up and full of energy after a break from school/work/break) rather than our messed-up psychology.

The author’s last concern seems the most plausible, but winds up void as well. Resolutions don’t need to be vague. They can be simple, planned, and manageable.

Baby Steps

We can change, one year at a time. There is the chance we might fail, but then again we might also succeed. And that tiny chance of success, I think, is important enough, that we should try and grab at any opportunity we can to improve ourselves.

Have optimism tempered with reason. (Read about a philosophy of calm optimism here.)

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