New Year’s 2013 Resolutions: Should You Even Make One?

Tis the Season – the time just before January 1 – where we set ourselves up to fail. We make lists with resolutions, which proceed to taunt and mock us. Yet, we write them down anyway. We want to read more, travel more, go to the gym more often, lose weight, take the GREs, learn how to play an instrument, refresh rusty language skills, eat better ... the list varies for everyone. 

What is this phenomenon, I mean really? We have this desire to start the New Year with a list of "self-improvement" items, it feels as though we walk the halls of our apartment or home and decide where we need to remodel and repaint. A significant part of me despises such resolutions. I’ll inevitably fail to do some, or, even more likely, I’ll forget others all together. Yet, I’ll be suckered into participating in this ritual, along with many others, which includes all those ambitious people who sign up for a gym membership.

Despite a certain sense of loathing, and knowing these resolutions are an occasional source of angst, the time has come again. Luckily, in the past two years, I’ve made adjustments to this whole process, in the hopes of it becoming – dare I say, fun? Well, I have a more positive attitude at the very least and that’s half the battle (usually).

First, I consider my entire list to be the ideal. If I manage to accomplish them all, that would be unexpected, but I really would like to check them off. However, if, come next December 31, I haven’t done them, then I take a little time to look back and consider why I didn’t accomplish said items. Not enough time maybe, or perhaps it was too expensive and maybe, I even forgot? Or perhaps, I wasn’t really interested – in which case, I always have to ask, why the heck did I put it on my list to begin with? New Year’s resolutions can be an excellence source of self-reflection, and sometimes growth.

Secondly, I make it fun. I print out a hardcopy of my list, and seal it – to be opened the following year in the final few days of the year. I’ve also mixed up the items, some are more of a lifestyle change – cooking more often – while others are a one time deal, such as get a Washington, D.C., area library card. This way, I’m more likely to complete at least a few items that aren’t continuous. However, if I make one longer-term lifestyle change, it’s a real sense of accomplishment.

A good example of this might be exercise, for many people it’s called weight loss. Lots of people make this resolution and lots of people ultimately probably fail. I start each year out by turning this into a two-part goal and I’m relatively successful. The first is to cook and eat better and the second is to exercise more frequently. A little over a year ago, I discovered that this combination (when done with diligence) keeps me in shape. Now, I usually start losing it in November as the holidays approach, but I like to renew each year and it usually holds out at least through the summer. I’ve noticed that when one gets a gym membership and go to just lose the weight, it’s less likely to succeed without other lifestyle changes and just by going to the gym. I’m a big supporter of gym workouts, and I go myself, but when I went with the mentality of losing weight, it wasn’t really successful. What’s more, the more regular running is paying off. Just this past Thanksgiving, I ran my first race (a 10k) and had such a sense of confidence and accomplishment when I crossed the finish line. There’s a 10-mile race in April that I have my eye on and I have a feeling that gearing up for that experience will keep me on track for consistent exercise, so that will be one of my resolutions for this year.

I look forward to these resolutions a bit more now that I’ve incorporated them into various parts of my life, made sure I have a varied list of items and pushed myself to think about them as I reflect on the past year and plan for the upcoming one. Whatever your reason for making a list, it shouldn’t be about failure. People dread resolutions, frequently, because they feel set up to fail. There is enough out there in life that we all individually struggle with, and we don’t need to put more obstacles in our path. If there are ways to make it a positive ritual, there’s a chance it could be a heck of a lot more fun.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Tarsi Dunlop

Tarsi Dunlop is a graduate of Middlebury College where she earned a BA in Political Science. Tarsi is the former Director of Operations for the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network and she works at an education non-profit in Alexandria, VA.

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