Another night passes into day. But, unlike just any other night bam the new day arises as a New Year. And, yet, apart from the arbitrary assignment of it becoming New Year’s day there’s no real reason to celebrate it. And, yet, many people do for a great many reasons.
I celebrate it because it is social convention and it’s an excuse to eat or drink certain things I enjoy under the guise of superstitions I don’t actually believe in.
As with any holiday, there’s a lot of routine regarding New Years (regardless of which New Years you celebrate). One popular interpretation of this ritual is the setting of resolutions.
Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The tradition seems to exist in Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures in different forms of starting on a “clean slate” so to speak. Medieval knights retook their vows of Chivalry at the turn of the New Year and some denominations of Christian leadership reassert their vows as well. Variations exist in Chinese Culture, although the acts vary greatly by region, including the New Year cleaning (both physically and metaphorically – a “good riddance” to the bad luck and negative attitudes of the past). And, there are examples similarly in many ancient Native American empires that sought to start their interpretation of the New Year with a refreshed outlook.
In modern culture though, the act has become almost cliche. Gyms and physical fitness machine manufacturers, Big Agra and the diet industry, home cleaning services and handymen, all market to our social and personal dysfunction. They remind us of our imperfections and provide the opportunity for (a short cut) to fixing it by reminding people that you’re fat: slim down; you’re weak: bulk up; you’re dirty: clean up; basically – you’re that: do this instead. The process perpetuates what are already harmful stereotypes in society and creates unrealistic expectations of the self.
For as bad as all the predatory marketing is the products themselves are largely ineffective at helping people attain the goals they set on New Years.
That’s in part because chances are if you are a resolution maker you’ve long forgotten what resolutions you made. Seriously, studies like Wiseman’s at Bristol, as well as ones by Oxford and finder.com.au have come up with figures between 25 and 48% of respondents are unable to accurately remember what they resolved to do. Those same studies, and others, found failure rates between 50 and 88% remembered resolutions. Not failing doesn’t necessarily equate to success however, those who met or exceeded the resolutions they recalled were only between 10 and 22%.
Bad habits are hard to break. New habits are hard to make. And they’re impossible to deal with we try to deal with them all at once according to studies such as Shiv’s at Stanford, Muraven’s at Albany, Baumeister’s at FSU, Mischel at Columbia. Those, as well as several other studies on how the brain processes information in general education have all demonstrated it is much easier to accomplish goals when they are set out over time rather than being attempted all at once.
This is a big reason why I don’t make resolutions on New Year’s in the traditional sense. Rather, as I’ve explained previously on the blog, I prefer to work within a less rigid assembly of mile markers in life.
Rather than life being broken into yearly segments that are rigid it is broken into aspects of my life: relationships like family, romantic, friendships, etc.; career; education; responsibilities like the house, car, electronics, etc.; and interests like the radio show, percussion, this blog, etc.
This is because not every aspect of life is on the same cycle.
For example, education isn’t traditionally measured on a typical January to December calendar nor is it typically completed within a calendar 12 month cycle. High school typically would begin in September of one year and end in June four years later. Similarly, say a standard bachelor’s degree might run August of one year and be completed in May several years later – somewhere between three and five years, perhaps. Or, maybe you are doing a series of certifications and that runs from February through August in a single calendar year. It wouldn’t make sense to set your educational goals or expect to achieve your goals based on the arbitrary date of January One in any of these cases. Rather, you would set and achieve them based on the educational cycles themselves.
For me, I am between pure educational goals at the moment. After all of the work I put in to my advanced degrees and certifications my current aspiration is to effectively apply this knowledge base to my career.
This leads to another example which is career goals. In the case of individual employment opportunities I set my goals based on the date of my hire with as well as both the fiscal year for the companies I worked and the types of projects I am involved. I’ve never been hired on January One and I’ve really only had a couple of projects that began January One so there’s never been a big need for creating job based resolutions around January One. Even when the company’s fiscal year began January One the date itself was not wholly tied into what the determinations of my success or failures as an employee might be since the evaluation schedules was usually offset from the fiscal year. So, it became much more natural for me to evaluate myself and determine my next steps based on points in time related more directly to the tasks rather than arbitrarily accepting January One as an inflexible marker for it.
And, this carries through as well to all other aspects of my life.
I’ve never had a relationship begin on January One so I’ve never benchmarked relationships using that date. It’s always been based around some anniversary at which point I could review where we’ve come from and determine where we might need to go to next.
Same with my hobbies and interests. Although some have begun around the holidays because maybe that’s when I received a gift that spawned or changed the trajectory of those hobbies or interests, that’s mostly coincidental in the experience. Rather, with each I’ll set forth a goal to achieve and a realistic timeline to achieve it. While that timeline might be twelve months, it would be another coincidence and it’s more likely the acceptable time is something else. When I recently wanted to (re)learn three-over-four polyrhytms I gave myself six months to work through the different limb permutations based on what I felt was the appropriate time to tackle each version. I still have a little time left but it looks like I’ll need to rethink my approach and alter my goal setting on this one. And, that’s ok. The timeline was an estimation and not based on arbitrary 12-month cycle that has to end on December 31.
Honestly, about the only time the January One date has proven useful is with dwelling safety. I’ve determined it’s the easiest time for me to go around and deal with the smoke/co2 detectors and fire extinguishers and other related stuff around the house (and my apartments previously). That routine works for me because it can be placed on an inflexible, 12-month schedule.
The end-result for me is that I feel like I am best equipped to set and accomplish my goals by spreading out the process over time and producing evaluation points that are appropriate to the goal rather than affixed to an arbitrary schedule. It provides me with the flexibility to adjust either the goal, the deadline or in some cases both throughout the process based on the evaluation points so I am most likely to be met with long term success rather than disappointment.
And, most of all, it allows me to tie my experiences to the actuality of the real world. In several studies, including the Quirkology 2007 study and a recent Nike Whitepaper, have demonstrated strong correlation between goal achievement and peer support. If I force myself to goal-set on January One for education I potentially miss the opportunity for peer support based on the actual educational cycle since my deadlines aren’t aligned with real world achievements. Likewise, if I am determining my relationship goals based on January one and those in the relationship are marking time and evaluating achievements based on our anniversary we too are out of alignment and I would be missing the opportunity for their support in achieving success. Even with something like a fitness program, it should be less about January One to December 31 and more about when did I actually begin and at what points should I be accomplishing actual activities in relation to those around me who are sharing in my progress (and possibly I in theirs).
It’s all about realistic goal setting and progress evaluation and to me, in the vast majority of cases, January One to December 31 just isn’t a realistic timeline to do this in. That’s why I don’t bother with resolutions per se.
What I do find myself doing is using New Years, when appropriate, as a possible evaluation point.
All, in all, 2015 was a good year for me. I’m happy with where I am at in all the different life components I would typically evaluate myself on. I passed some major mile markers in 2015 to which I’m exceptionally proud of and moving into 2016 I’ll hopefully be achieving a few more. There were a couple of things I came up short on. When that happened, in the moment it was happening, I took that as the opportunity to adjust my own expectations, reset the goal, recalibrate the deadline and provide myself with another opportunity to creating a successful outcome. If I stop and look today at where I’m at, what progress I’ve made and where I believe I’m going next for the most part I’m good with things. When the next milemarker for evaluation on each emerges I’ll deal with the outcomes as necessary I’m not going to get too hung up on it today just because it happens to be January One.
My only goal then for 2016 will be to continue working toward the goals I previously set, whenever they were set in 2015 or 2014 or 2013 or earlier. If they’re due up in 2016 I hope I will successfully achieve them, if they aren’t I hope I’ve put forth my best effort to facilitate their achievement whenever they’re due up, be it in 2017 or 2018 or 2019 or beyond. And, I hope you as a reader will find a similar kind of success in life too.