You’ve probably heard this phrase a million times now: “New Year, New Me.” Either with an eye roll or a frown, the concept of setting New Year’s Resolutions, along with this expression, is generally received as another holiday cliche.
Not everyone has the most positive perception of New Year’s Resolutions—and it’s not hard to see why.
While New Years undoubtedly allow for a brief reprieve from the chaotic events of 2021 and offer time for critical reflection, adaptation, and application of resolutions, it’s worth asking why we should reserve these important moments for this one single day only. Why January 1st? After all, calendars themselves are an arbitrary human invention and as many of us have noticed, the clock ticking from 11:59 to 12:00 on December 31st 2021 seemed to be drowned out by the pandemic.
Further, with a common perception that the New Year’s big goals and high hopes are only made to fail, it’s not surprising that New Year’s Resolutions don’t have such a great reputation.
In fact, a great majority of Americans will not plan to make New Year’s Resolutions. According to a CBS News Poll, approximately 29 percent of Americans plan on setting new goals for the new year, in contrast to 43 percent and 42 percent in 2020-2021 and 2019-2020, respectively. But against 71 percent of Americans, we argue that New Year’s Resolutions can still work.
In the midst of a seemingly never-ending pandemic, it feels natural to languish in cynicism and dismiss traditions such as New Year’s Resolutions as mere frivolities. After all, what does the simple goal of making your bed in the morning accomplish when your health, well-being, and safety have been up in the air for the past almost two years of the pandemic? And in productivity oriented cultures like Andover, the instinct is to disregard the little things in favor of productivity aids and ‘the grind.’
Yet, perhaps the answer to a truly “successful” resolution requires redefining what a resolution should actually look like.
Seemingly insignificant resolutions can be vessels of joy and more robust systems of self-care. Small but mighty, these more realistic goals can accumulate to larger successes and wins. Giving yourself a tangible goal to work towards, in fact, increases your sense of purpose because you see yourself achieving them one by one. Start with small, manageable checkpoints based on your daily patterns. If your goal for the new year is to make your bed after waking up each morning, but you know that you feel particularly sluggish on the weekends, you don’t necessarily have to push yourself by aiming to make your bed every day, immediately. You could instead split your goal into digestible chunks; something like, ‘for the first quarter of the year, I’ll make my bed every weekday morning.’ Once you get to that checkpoint and you see yourself consistently meeting your initial goal, you can then move onto the next step, making your bed every day, including the weekends. Rather than grand, sweeping declarations of lifestyle changes, perhaps the answer lies in smaller resolutions that are more manageable, and sustainable in building healthier habits into our routines.
Oftentimes, people jump into the new year striving for a total identity rebrand—a chance to wipe out all of your “shortcomings” and become your “perfect” self. Frankly, such optimism is unrealistic. Drastic and distinct changes take time to implement. A sudden zero to 100 shift in your daily routine is possible, but realistically unsustainable for an extended period of time.
Simultaneously, while there’s value in understanding what outcomes are within our control, there’s also value in understanding the things you can’t control, too; part of self-improvement can also stem from lifting some of the burden to change from your shoulders. Sometimes, it’s worth acknowledging when a situation can’t be fixed by you alone, and that you should be refocusing your attention on other aspects of your life. By seeking to understand the things that you do and don’t have power over, it becomes easier to set goals that are within the reasonable scope of your abilities.
It is undeniable that the pandemic has globally thrown a wrench in everyone’s plans for the future. Whether a country is able to systematically control its spread, or whether it allows it to spread like wildfire—there are few (if any) people in the world who have continued on the path they envision for themselves on January 1, 2020.
Now, another New Year’s passing us by—we know not to plan for that spring break trip to New York so early. Who knows where we will be in two months? Will there be an Omega variant by then?
Understanding that even the word “future” has entirely changed in our lexicons over the last two years, we should remember to keep New Year’s Resolutions as adaptive as our plans will need to be. Perhaps “visit the gym” could more broadly mean simply “pursuing health.” Perhaps “join new clubs” could boil down to “seek new social opportunities.” Perhaps “go to the library” could change to “read.”
Sitting in front of an empty notebook page or blinking cursor, we often identify goals that we think will benefit us, goals that we think we can accomplish. But sometimes, that doesn’t play out the way we imagined. We get injured. Schoolwork buries us alive. The world shuts down. To maintain the momentum of that pre-New Year resolution building, we should reflect periodically on what will truly benefit us and work within our lives.
All of this isn’t to say you shouldn’t be optimistic, dream big, or shoot for a goal you think will be difficult to achieve–you absolutely should (if you want)! But ultimately, we are all human, and we are not perfect. Give yourself room to fail, room to have hiccups and mistakes throughout the journey—New Year’s Resolutions are here to make ourselves feel more happy about the people we are and want to be, not disappointed or stressed about the people we could be. It may be a new year, but we can still learn to grow and embrace 2021 versions of ourselves and those who came before. New Year, A Slightly Adjusted Me.