And It’s THAT Time of Year, Again – On New Year Resolutions and Checklists

PART I

That was a rather clunky title, wasn’t it? I quite like it. Maybe I’ll change it on my eleventh read – I tend to do that, change stuff. Usually it’s a word that isn’t quite right – most times I change the offending word back after a few reads. Sometimes I add more words to make said word less offending – drown it out in a sea of words. Most times I take it out. ‘Less is more’ is the mantra of my blog – if I still can’t find the right word after 5 revisions, it’s probably a sign that the word shouldn’t be there at all. (This right here is an example of my ‘drowning out’ tactic. I wanted to write ‘offending word’, and all that you’ve just read between then and here serves the sole purpose of drowning out the aggressiveness of said chosen word. I know. I take this writing thing way too seriously. Back to the point. Which is change. In case you’ve forgotten.) WordPress tells me I’ve revised my Auschwitz post 25 times to date. (That one’s going live in a little over a month. And trust me when I say that, by the time of publishing, the number of revisions will not be 25. Update: the post has gone live, and the number of revisions is not 25.)

So yes, things change. Often often. Change has featured as a central theme elsewhere on my blog, and you may be dismayed (or delighted – depending on your attitude towards change) to know that it will again play a central role here.

What does change have to do with New Year resolutions? Everything.

I used to write New Year resolutions. I found that setting myself goals for the New Year helped me visualise the year to come, imagine how things would pan out. I’d be fit by the end of the year after all that exercise. I’d have lost weight. I’d have been super productive throughout – as in sticking to my time schedule every single day. I’d have met, and won over, my prince charming with my unrivalled (oops) charm (never mind, too lazy to thesaurise) and unmatched beauty. You know. All the things you can typically achieve in a year. In a lovely little land called imagination.

Did I ever do what my list told me I’d resolved to in a particular year? No. Not really. Not ever. I might have kept one or two here and there – but never the entire list. Though these things do depend on how you (choose to) interpret them don’t they? Whether or not you accomplish a goal depends on how you define its accomplishment – how much exercise you need to have done over the space of a year to justify checking ‘Exercise more’ off the list, for example?

Before you get the wrong impression, I’m not against checklists in general. I believe in the power of routine, and – by extension – checklists. I keep a few of those myself. I have one optimistically and timelessly called ‘Today’. Whatever happens, the things on that list get done ‘today’ – smart eh? I also have separate checklists for different purposes – mainly for work and university. I also have shopping lists, several book lists, movie lists, places to visit lists for various cities around the world – the list (of lists) continues.

What I am against is New Year resolutions. Now, I’m not one of those haters who hate on things they can’t do. Or at least I’d like to think I’m not. I think there are things fundamentally wrong with the concept of New Year resolutions. First and foremost, it’s irreconcilably opposed to one fundamental aspect of life: change.

Things change. And more likely than not, your life will change – sometimes dramatically – over the course of a year. By setting yourself, say, ten New Year resolutions, you are making permanent those 10 wishes that you’d like to accomplish at the beginning of the year. Who’s to say that by the end of 12 months, your priorities won’t have change? Maybe you get a new job. Maybe you stop studying. Maybe you break up with your partner. Maybe you simply change your mind. 

I think New Year resolutions give undue weight to what you want to do at a particular moment in time. There’s no reason why what you’d like to accomplish on 1st January should outweigh what you’d like to accomplish on 15th March, 22nd August, or 30th December. No reason at all.

It’s true that having New Year resolutions tends to inject a sense of motivation and inspiration into your new year, give you something to work towards. They can, and do (for many people), act as an effective source of motivation going forward. But I don’t think this is a good enough reason for keeping with this practice. Why? Because more often than not that motivation fades as – over the year – you come to be drowned in the daily life, as new tasks and commitments and goals present themselves. Then, at the end of it all, you look back and realise how much of a failure you’ve been in keeping to your New Year resolutions. And if my experience is anything to go by, that’s not a nice feeling. Not at all.

Now, I’m not saying this is what always happens – it’s just a possibility. Maybe you look back over the year and think: ‘how silly was I when I wrote those resolutions! Life ain’t that simple! Look how much I’ve grown! How much happier I’ve become!’ But chances are not everyone will think that way. I sure didn’t. And over the years, as the list of unaccomplished resolutions piles up, it starts to weigh on you. Not literally. Not even consciously. But it starts eating at you from inside, gnawing away at your confidence – more specifically, it makes you start doubting at your core beliefs about yourself as a competent human being, capable of doing things they set their mind to. How would I know? It’s what’s been happening to me over (too) many years. Before I stopped setting myself New Year resolutions (and changed a number of other behaviours that reinforced such negative thought processes), that is. And from personal observations and what little I know of humans in general, I suspect this is the case for many.

And that’s why I’m not a fan of New Year resolutions. I don’t think it’s a beneficial activity – I actually think it’s bordering on dangerous. Not dangerous to your physical person, but dangerous to your psychological well-being, which many – including myself – would argue is far more injurious to your overall well-being than physical danger. And a damage much more difficult to undo.

So I say: let’s do away with New Year resolutions. Instead of setting yourself goals for the coming year that realistically you aren’t going to be able or willing to do (in a few days’/months’ time), why not try something new? Let’s sit down and think back over the past year, and pick out 10 – 5, 20, 50, up to you – things you’ve done. Ten things you look back on with pride and happiness. Instead of replacing your previous year’s resolutions with another set, and piling onto your mental to-do list yet more things unaccomplished, why not tick things off? Why not tick off things you may not even know existed on your (imaginary) list in the first place?

The feeling of having done something is a powerful one. I know that it is, to me. And I strongly suspect that it’s the case for many others – including yourself. Wouldn’t life be so much more rewarding, fulfilling if – at the end of each year – you look back and realise for the first time how far you’ve come? What you’ve done over the year? Things that will reinforce your self-confidence going forward?

Wouldn’t that be better than writing yet another list of things you’d like to – but so far haven’t been able to – do? Wouldn’t it make you happier? It does me.

Do try it, and let me know if it works for you too.

With love,

Val

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TO BE CONTINUED

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