Making Proper New Year’s Resolutions

It that’s time again: the start of a new year. And while my cat hasn’t seemed to respond to the fleeting opportunity to mend one’s ways that the beginning of a new year brings, I have. In order to honor that age-old tradition of turning over a new leaf and calendar all at once, I’ve decided to make some new year’s resolutions of my own.

I applaud those people who pause long enough mentally to arrange their lives, reflect, and respond accordingly. I think it’s important to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of our own lives, make the familiar unfamiliar, and critically examine where we are and where we’re going. But in my experience, people have got the technique all wrong. Few people know how to come up with a proper resolution. And without a good resolution, how could you ever hope of using it to signpost your journey through the coming year? So I am here to impart my deep if not self-important insight to you, free of charge.

I remember my mother calling me one early January to wish me a happy new year and to share her resolution for the new year. “Josh, this year my resolution is to be happier,” she told me over the phone. Likewise, my dad resolved to make more money. And this year, for about twelve seconds, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if I managed my time more efficiently? Sure, these are all nice things to wish for, at least on the surface, but good resolutions they are not. (I hope my parents don’t mind my saying so here.) It’s hard to argue with anyone who wants the time and wealth it takes to be happy. (It takes wealth and time, doesn’t it?) So what makes these resolutions to bad? Well, two things.

A year is a long time, and it’s hard to keep track of long-term behavior when you experience it only in the moment. For this reason, avoid making resolutions that are fuzzy. Resolutions need to be stated in a way that gives you an easy way to know whether you achieved them. You need to build a measure into your goal, so you know whether you made it or not. In this way you have a mechanism to figure out how to adjust your actions if you’ve run off track. For example, instead of resolving to “be wealthier,” try to save 10% of your paycheck each week in account that you can’t touch until next year. It’s easy to check whether you’ve been saving over the course of a year. It’s a lot harder to evaluate your relative wealth from 365 days in the past.

Not only is it hard to know whether you’ve achieved a fuzzy goal, it’s hard to know how even to start. How in the world does someone go about “being happier” anyway? Resolutions should suggest a planned course of action. To kill two birds with one stone, I’m going to venture that a regular, regimented work-out routine would make me happier and force me to manage my time more efficiently. According to search trends on Google, it looks like a lot of people feel the same way. Look at how the number of searches on term “gym” spiked at the start of 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

But we have to be careful to make sure that our resolution to go the gym has: (1) a well-defined goal, and (2) suggests a way to achieve that goal. So this year, I’ve resolved (2) to go to pool three days a week, so that I can (1) swim a mile without stopping. And, oh, to be more successful, too.

Happy new year, everyone.

3 thoughts on “Making Proper New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Indeed!

    I’m not a person who typically makes resolutions, but this year I’ve decided to start. My resolutions are thus:

    1) Play the guitar at least a little every day.
    2) Write something every day.
    3) Floss.
    4) Go to the gym more.

    4 is fuzzy, yes, but “more” is, in fact, quantifiable if I look at my past gym performance. And, really, if we look deeply at each of these, there’s a well-defined goal in mind:

    1) Play the guitar at least a little every day [in order to improve technique and work up to playing in public].
    2) Write something every day [to build up a body of work and get back on track toward submitting something to be published].
    3) Floss [to avoid that nasty periodontitis].
    4) Go to the gym more [in order to at some point achieve Killer Abs And Arms].

    So happy you’re writing again!

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