New Year, Same You
It’s that time of year again where many of us reflect back on what we have accomplished in the last 12 months, looking at how our lives have changed and how we’ve grown. If we had set specific goals earlier in the year and worked hard to achieve them, this can be a very rewarding experience. Unfortunately, this reflection can easily take a more negative turn, where we think about the goals we haven’t accomplished, the good habits we haven’t developed or the bad habits we haven’t changed. It certainly doesn’t help that this reflection coincides with the darkest, coldest time of the year, which can have a profound impact on our mental health and well-being. As we look at all the potential areas of improvement in our lives, it can become quite easy to fall into the ubiquitous trend of setting a New Year’s resolution.
While I am an advocate of goal-setting and personal development, I do not believe in setting New Year’s resolutions for several reasons. First, and foremost, the vast majority of resolutions are set up for failure from the start because they are too big in nature. We build up this idea that we will miraculously wake up on January 1st and be able to conquer to world. And maybe for that day we can. But after 1 or 2 days, maybe a week, we come to realize that we are, in fact, the same person we were on December 31st, and that drastically changing our diet, or deciding to hit the gym 6 days a week, is not something we can change all at once. Another reason I do not believe in New Year’s resolutions is that we ascribe our own power and autonomy to a date in our calendar. We tell ourselves that once January 1st rolls around, we will have the power to change anything. While swapping out our calendars may provide a symbolic sense of closing the book on one year and opening up a brand new chapter in another, the fact remains that if there is an obstacle or barrier between you and your goal on December 31st, it will still be there on January 1st, and you will have to be the one to address it. Finally, setting a New Year’s resolution reinforces the problematic notion that there will ever be a perfect time to begin making changes in our lives. It always seems as if we are waiting for the perfect set of circumstances in which we will be able to dramatically change our lives with ease, and we use this as a way of justifying our procrastination by promising ourselves: “If I can just make it through exam season, I’ll have time to go to the gym” or maybe “After the stress of the holidays I’ll quit smoking” or even “If I spend the holidays eating and drinking as much as I want, I’ll get it out of my system and be able to start the new year fresh.” Sound familiar? The problem here is that there will never be a perfect time to make changes to your life. There will always be something going on at work, or home, or school that will threaten to pull your focus away from your goal. Going one step further, the more we tell ourselves “I’ll be ready to change my behaviour once X, Y, or Z occurs...” the more we are reinforcing the notion that we are not ready or not able to change now.
I want to challenge you to change the way you think about goals and resolutions. If the start of a new year can signify a clean state and an opportunity to change and grow, then so can the start of every single new day of that year. The more time you spend planning to change in the future, the less time you spend making those changes in the present. So treat every day as an opportunity to work towards your goal, to learn something new, or to try something different. In effect, you’ll be giving yourself 365 opportunities to change every year, rather than relying on the magical power of January 1st to provide you with one single chance at success.