The Trouble With New Year's Resolutions

The Trouble With New Year's Resolutions

Resolutions demand that personal growth be achieved under duress, and suggest that it can only occur within a certain time frame.


We wait for the turn of the new year with twinkling glasses in hand and then we generate resolutions: sometimes grand and sometimes small promises to keep to ourselves in the coming months. We might generate them in December and then lie in wait for the year's final moments, for what appears to be the opportunity to act upon these resolutions and finally change when the timing is perfect.

But somehow in spite of all the pageantry and light-heartedness of New Year's ceremonies, resolutions often seem to encompass hidden rigidity, anxiety, fear of failure, and pressure to achieve. That doesn't sound like a very happy new year.

It is nice to consider the new year a time of renewal and opportunity. The idea of a clean slate is always appealing, especially during a time that could be seen as a marker of time spent or lost. Perhaps in the face of the new year, resolutions are a way to disguise something that could otherwise be daunting as manageable and optimistic. They could be a way of examining the passage of time as something positive and fruitful rather than frightening and denotative of loss.

But resolution-making is also growth and optimism that hinges on an annual cycle. It is evolution with a timestamp. It is an agreed-upon calendar date that collects promises. And because of how tethered it is to the calendar, it is growing under pressure and growth under strict circumstances.

With the new year comes not only a wave of quivering anxiety as people make resolutions they worry they will fail to keep but streams of invective and disappointment as people upbraid themselves for failing. Maybe the pressure is part of why people make these promises—pressure becomes motivation. But why must growth be achieved under duress? Can it be? Not too well, I would argue.

This is not to say that resolutions should not be made. But they seem to be made with such ferocity and worry that to tend to them is often to fall with them, a rigid and disappointing pattern that does not seem to fit the flexible ideal of the wide open new year. In no way am I suggesting that resolutions are futile because they will fail—forging goals is essential for personal and thereby societal growth, and if we embark upon journeys with the belief that failure is inevitable then the journey will surely fail in its most important sense. I only intend to point out the colossal pressure that accompanies what probably should not be such a turbulent process. The New Year is supposed to celebrate opportunity and hope and growth to the best of our ability. Isn't it more conducive to positive growth and wellness to be good to and patient with ourselves?

Making resolutions at the stroke of midnight also suggests that there is only a certain time frame in which one may grow and achieve. Some set about to achieve within stiff parameters, and there is merit to structure. But again I question whether this rigidity gels with the open nature of the "New Year" and "resolutions." Why must there be deadlines on growth? Rather we can evolve freely and make promises and change as needed, not feel tethered to a time frame. It is ok to seize the new year as an opportunity to grow, so long as one remembers that such growth is always possible and need not be limited to an annual declaration, but rather can and should take place in the spaces in between.

There is nothing wrong with shaping ourselves toward the best iterations of ourselves that we can be. But I think that this can be done with gentleness and without the arbitrary rules and strictness imposed by what have become the traditional practices of resolution-making. Personal growth cannot be contained by any borders a calendar may set. Growth is lifelong and constant and it is something we can and should try to do all the time, with compassion and understanding for ourselves as we endeavor something new.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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