The Myth of New Year’s Resolutions
Another year is gone and, not to be left behind, I join the rest of the world in putting together a comprehensive and very well thought out resolution list. I cannot sleep anyway because of the lethal combination of fattening unhealthy food drowned down with industrial quantities of alcohol in an attempt to preserve my other organs when my liver will fail. If I cannot sleep and as my desk is close to the kitchen, I thought I could have a guilt-free middle of the night snack while jolting down my list. After all, my future depends on the thoroughness of this list! I can’t let a growling stomach distract me.
Every year around this time, the world goes into frenzy: we don’t like anything anymore about ourselves. For about a month around New Year’s Eve, we suddenly discover all our flaws: we are too fat, too lazy, too distracted, too distant, too sappy, too happy, too flirty, too self centered, too this and too that… Open any newspaper or magazine in any format (traditional or on line) and count how many times the phrase “New Year, New You” catches your attention.
At the end of my first year in Canada, I got quite confused: after 11 months of upbeat quotes when the theme of the day was alternating between: “Be Happy with Yourself”, “How to Get Happier with Yourself”, and “Embrace Yourself” all of the sudden, in the 12th month when you are supposed to be happy and party till you fall into unconsciousness, people were getting all depressed and unhappy. Reality was swiftly landing on earth, hand in hand with Santa Claus and was giving away mirrors to all mortals together with the Christmas gifts. I found out that the merry ceremony of gift unwrapping was followed up by a mandatory two-hour introspection session when old Freud’s psychology books were coming off the shelves to help compose the resolution list.
But what was I suppose to do? I kind of liked myself the way I was and this resolution list thing, although tempting, seemed unrealistic to me. Don’t get me wrong, I did not think I was perfect and need no improvement, but could not bring myself to switch so fast from “I embrace myself” to ” I need to change” in a blink of an eye and for a month only.
I struggle every year to come up with a list of resolutions because I don’t believe in the concept. And yet people expect you to have a list no matter what or you become an alien with which any known form of communication is doomed to fail. Please allow me to explain again why I think that a resolution list is nothing else but an exercise in futility:
- To change a habit with willpower only is almost impossible, unless you are a direct descendent of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Changing any kind of habit involves understanding first which are its psychological triggers, and then you need to slowly retrain the brain to change. It sounds easy but it is a complex process studied through social psychology, clinical psychology and neuroscience and yet, there is no known prescription or recipe for change. What we know is that by practicing a new habit long enough, the human brain has the capacity to rewire, to acquire new habits. But over night, it can only rain or snow but a change of habit will never happen! You can drop now that line “As of Jan 1st I will stop biting my nails” for example.
- Diets, gym passes, life quotes by themselves will not work. You have to be willing and working hard to change your life style if you want to be successful in whatever goal achievement you desire. As an example, when you are offered bread at dinner, instead of saying: “Thank you but I am on a diet!” refuse politely with: “Thank you, I don’t eat bread.” Diets are associated with a beginning and an end date, they are temporary fixes and by acknowledging that you are on a diet, you unconsciously already plan to eat that bread once you are done with the bloody diet. Temporary fixes are just short-lived remedies that in the long run will make you more miserable than happier. Think about your last diet: you struggled to follow a very strict food plan and you could have killed your trainer at the end of every session, if you had had an ounce of energy left. Sure, you dropped a few pounds but as soon as life threw a few curves at you, the sugar moved back home and you kicked the trainer to the curve. This happy event caused you to gain back all the pounds lost and some.
- All lists are unrealistic and doomed to fail. First of all, think about the definition of a list: “A series of names and other items” according to Dictionary.com. Not one, not two items but a series of. I am wondering at what point during the Christmas meal or after how many glasses of the alcohol of choice ingested, the idea of having more than one item to work on in the new year seemed doable? Let’s take the most popular item on the resolution lists: get fit. What is a realistic target? I think it depends on everyone’s fitness level and commitment but if you target going to the gym 5 times a week and this year you averaged once a month, good luck with keeping that resolution.
- Resolutions are a waste of money that you could use in a smarter way. Make a short inventory of the things you bought over the years as a result of a New Year resolution. Mine is quite extensive: expensive notebooks for the novel I intend to write, weights, yoga mats, Swedish balls, an elliptical machine that has been hardly used, a bag full of wool yarns and an impressive number of patterns purchased and safely stored, overly inflated gym memberships, and the list can go on and on. Buying stuff makes you believe for a while that you are committed to change, committed to take up a hobby. Fast forward a couple of months and they are a sad reminder of your failure and another reason to stress out over the credit card bill.
- Getting richer, fitter, slimmer or promoted will not make you happier.The ultimate reason why we want to change habits and appearances is the thought that with change, the elusive happiness will finally reach us. Once we lost the 20 pounds, or once we got the promotion, somehow magically, happiness will be sprinkled on us from somewhere high above and the sweet angelic music will forever accompany every step we take. Wrong! Happiness is a choice, happiness is your choice! You can chose to allow yourself to be happy in present or, you can make lists with resolutions and postpone experiencing happy feelings till sometime in the future. In an interview to Huffington Post, Rick Hanson, psychologist and author of the book Wiring Happiness was noticing that we’re surrounded by opportunities — “10 seconds here or 20 seconds there — to just register useful experiences and learn from them. People don’t do that when they could.”
My final advice to you all: stop taking yourselves that seriously during this time of the year! Enjoy great food, have a drink or two, make time for your family and laugh a lot with your friends! Keep things in prospective and don’t waste time making lists with resolutions you will get depressed about later in the year! Instead of grandiose resolutions, set reasonable small goals that you can attain without spending a fortune or having to rearrange your and your family’s entire schedule and keep positive! Yes, you will fail sometimes, and it is ok as long as you get back to it and laugh out loud as much as you want!
Happy New Year!