Why I Resolve to Not Make New Year's Resolutions

One of the great New Year’s Eve traditions is TV watching of the Times Square ball drop at the stroke of midnight.  Depending on which generation you belong to, you probably relate best to either Guy Lombardo, Dick Clark or Ryan Seacrest. 

An even better-established New Year’s tradition is the age-old practice of resolving to clean up our acts by doing any number of things:  being more disciplined, quitting smoking, losing weight, being kinder, etc.

At the risk of appearing to be a killjoy, I am willing to admit that I have never liked this practice.  And I think I have two solid reasons:

Reason #1 – Many (but certainly not all) who make New Year’s resolutions tend to over-do it. They fall victim to the twin traps of either identifying too many resolutions or setting the bar unrealistically high.  Either pitfall results in early abandonment.

When I was in high school, I decided on an exercise routine to up my physical fitness.  So I developed a list of exercises I promised myself to do every day.  Day 1 went well, and I finished in about 30 minutes.  Day 2 went much faster – only about 20 minutes.  But it wasn’t because I got more efficient.  Rather, it was because I simply quit after 20 minutes.  It wasn’t that much fun.  Days 3 and beyond were even faster – 0 minutes each day.  The problem was that going from no exercise to a half hour every day was too much of a shock to the system.

A few years later, I decided to try again and began doing a routine of about 20 pushups and 30 crunches every morning – a practice which I continued for many years.  And over time I slowly  increased my reps – topping out at 30 and 50 – and added a couple of other exercises.  The difference is that I started small and gradually upped my effort.

Reason #2 – The whole concept that clicking over the last digit of the four-digit year – a purely mathematical phenomenon –  should cause self-reflection has always struck me as highly artificial.  Although we shouldn’t become unnecessarily introspective, a more productive practice is a slow-and-steady process of ongoing evaluation and recalibration. 

I’ve seen that people who evaluate their lives and goals on a regular basis and adjust accordingly tend to develop more realistic goals, attain them, and make them a more permanent part of their lives.

A rather overweight friend of mine recently told me that he was trying to get into better shape and promised that he would lose 20 pounds that month.  “It’s easy.  All I have to do is drop the tortilla chips,” he said.  “I’ve done it five or six times.”  Fortunately, I was able to fight the urge to ask him what the point was.  His yo-yoing showed that the change was not permanent.  What made him think this time would be different?

So, no, I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions.  A thoughtful, measured process of regular evaluation yields more long-term progress.  What do you think?