In Defence of New Year’s Resolutions


By Belinda White

It’s easy to be cynical about New Year’s resolutions. Yes, we don’t stick to them. Yes, we should make positive changes all through the year. Yes, they are a trite and predictable convention.

However, isn’t there something inherently good and useful about taking the time to set your intentions for the year ahead.

Moreover, we humans are as cyclical as the seasons we live among. Very few of us can be ‘good’ all the time. It helps to have an agreed date when we step back and assess the way we are living and how it could be improved. Other points in favour of resolutions are:

We need a reset button. Life gets relentlessly busy.  I limped into the holiday season this year, sick and stretched thin by work, life and change. Many people need this holiday period to recover and find some stillness. And then, with our newfound energy and equanimity, we ring in a new year with good intentions and the time and space to fulfil them. Who cares if it’s all over by March? Those first three months were great!

This might just be the year when it all works. Behavioural change is hard. Some people love to jump in, head-first. Cut all the carbs! Save all the money! Give up all the cigarettes! However, the study of motivation and habit change suggests this is perhaps the least effective way to change your life. Small, incremental changes that build on each other (‘habit stacking’) are more sustainable and likely to work. (You should read James Clear’s blog if you’re interested in this stuff). Essentially, though, the key is to find what works for you. And maybe you just need lots of new year reset buttons to get to that point.

Misery loves company. Initiatives like Dry July mean you have someone to share the pain of sobriety with for a month. Similarly, the ‘January people’ who clog up my gym for a few weeks every year are motivated to go because everyone else is doing it too. (While they annoy the hell out of me, the poor, misguided souls mainly stick to the cardio machines, so at least they don’t mess with my bench press).

So if we take these things together, perhaps we don’t need to wait til January 1 every year to be a better person. Maybe we can escalate our awesomeness at any time of the year, by remembering what it takes to change. Find some time and space to reset (hello holidays!); find a support network (why else is the tortuous Crossfit so popular?); and look for the small wins (stop eating Tim-Tams rather than fasting for two days a week).

And if that fails, there’s always next year.

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photo credit: Eneas via photopin cc

  1. Very true!

  2. As one of my favourite gurus, Tara Brach, says, “You can begin again, in any moment”. That applies to big things like resolutions, or tiny things around some little change you choose to make.

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