From January 1st, I’m going to the gym 5 times a week. From January 1st, I’m going to quit smoking. From January 1st, I’m starting to meditate 5 minutes every day. All these things have something in common. Apart from having a very low chance to actually happen, that is. Yes, you’re right: they’re all new year resolutions.
The Unavoidable Need For New Beginnings
I know we’ve all been here. I know for sure I was. There were at least 10, if not 15 years, at the beginning of which I set up some audacious, totally unrealistic goals, only to see them crumbling like a cards castle, a few weeks later.
Oh, the disappointment, the frustration, the low self-esteem feelings haunting me for months…
It took me a while to understand how I was actually self-inflicting all those painful emotions, and what role new year resolutions played in this intricate scheme for triggering consistent, durable unhappiness.
You see, we, humans, have an unavoidable need for new beginnings, for clean slates, for fresh starts. It’s like we’re painting something, and after a few bad strokes, the painting is so ugly, that we just want to start over, not being able to repair, to adjust, to amend. We can’t really cope with the incapacity to meet our own, self-imposed goals.
On top of that, we strive for predictability, but deep down we crave to break it – but, mind you, only if there is something better on the other side of the breaking.
Trapped between the familiarity that gives meaning to our surroundings, and the ever unsatisfiable craving for novelty, we wander in a sea of confusion, seldom getting any sense of accomplishment.
Introducing arbitrary borders.
On this never settling ocean of blurred contours, we plant arbitrary buoys, designing a map on top of an ever changing territory. Those buoys, or, to be more precise, the equal distance between them, gives us some rhythm, some pace, some context in which we can derive a little bit of sense from our unstoppable existence.
Days, months, years, these are all arbitrary limits. But the bigger the distance between these arbitrary borders, the richer the meaning we can extract. We don’t live much during a day. A little bit more during a month. But a year, well, that’s quite the distance. There’s enough stuff happening during a year to fill up our cup, to add some depth to the moving contours, to order a little bit the chaos in which we’re swimming aimlessly.
New year resolutions are so important to us because years are so important to us. Years are the heaviest unit in our life measuring system, hence, whatever can relate to this unit must be relevant too.
Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically more relevant to a new year resolution than to a new day resolution, or a new hour resolution. It’s just that we place more weight on it.
So, Do They Really Work, These New Year Resolutions?
Depends on what you understand by “really work”.
Are they a way to set our direction in life, some sort of a compass that may help navigate the curly sea in front of us? Yes, I’d say they are.
Are they a way to measure how successful we are, how accomplished we are, how meaningful our life is? Alas, no. No way.
We function on faulty hardware and limited software. Despite the constant illusion that we are “the masters of our own lives”, we have little control of what happens to us (most of it is about how we react to what happens to us). Hence, we have little to no control to whatever turns the life will take during a year. All we can do is set the direction, set sail and hunt the good winds, hoping they will carry us to the next happy island, but we can never take that for granted. It may, or it may not happen.
As long as we keep sailing, though, we should be fine.
Especially if we keep trying to sail in the right direction, no matter how bad the storms that’ll hit us are, how wrecked the ship will get, or how tired the captain may be.