On New Year’s Resolutions

This is yet another of a variable Series of Short Takes on topics of the day.  This one is not religious or political, for once.  G-rated, as it were.

It seems that everyone sets New Year’s Resolutions.  Well, more accurately, some people do, and some people like to feel superior to those that do by pointedly NOT doing it.  They argue that since most people don’t keep their resolutions, they’re saving time by not making any in the first place.

Alas, like many seemingly sound ideas, this one is half bunk.  Because resolutions have an impact even if they are not kept.

First, think of all the gyms that would have a 10% decrease in business if nobody signed up the first of the year, intending to really get in shape this time.  That would be a tragedy.  Kidding, of course, but there are some people – impossible to know what fraction – that really are going to keep going to the gym, or lose wight, or stop smoking, or what have you.  If they did not start, they wouldn’t continue.  But they do, and some keep going.  Every year there are those that really do make radical changes in their lives, and many of those changes start on January 1.

Second, on the negative side, there’s good evidence that making a resolution and not keeping it harms one’s sense of oneself.  It does violence to integrity.  Even if you are the only one that knows that you made the resolution, to break it reduces your commitment to yourself.  Therefore, as advice, please don’t frivolously make resolutions.  Don’t promise what you aren’t going to do.  It’s bad in business, and it’s bad in private.

An aside: this is one reason I have inveighed against goal-setting for so many years.  Most people “set goals”, but then either don’t expend the necessary effort to achieve them (reducing integrity) or expend too much effort to achieve them (screwing up priorities).  This leaves aside the even greater problem of people setting goals “looking out”, as my friend Jonathan Heaton says, instead of “looking in”.  Setting a goal to make $100,000 this year is great, but it’s very likely to be at least somewhat beyond your control, sort of like setting a goal to have it snow four inches (accomplished, BTW).  It would be better to set a goal to become the sort of person that is worth $100k per year, which is entirely in your control, and reinforces rather than weakens priorities.  But this is a topic for a much longer post.

Finally, though, and back on the positive side, those that make resolutions are at least aware that they need to improve, and willing to expend some effort to get themselves to do it.  That effort might be tiny indeed, no more than saying aloud to the general atmosphere, “I’m not going to speed down my street anymore.”  It might be followed by little or no real effort, which is bad, but the initial resolution, the original desire to change for the better, that has real power.  Those that use that power will find themselves strengthened and refreshed, regardless of what follows.

And those that use that power well, and discipline themselves to follow through, those people can become transformed.  I know.  It’s happened to me.

May it be so for all of us this year.

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