Friday, December 28, 2007

resolving the question of new year resolutions

Dreaming up resolutions for living better in the coming year is one of those many cultural rituals which are simultaneously well-intentioned and pointlessly arbitrary. The drive to improve oneself isn't the pointless or arbitrary part. The pointlessness stems from a few other facts.
  • The point of completion of another solar revolution could be set anywhere in a cyclical calendar. A year is an additional numerical designation applied to the calendar to preserve a linear (or sinusoidal, because each year is a cycle?) reckoning of time. In other words, the switching of the year is like going from 19 to 20. Oooo, the "1" changed to a "2". How fascinating. Who are the people obsessed with "boring numbers" now? (Of course, time isn't perfectly linear, but under the circumstances most of us operate in, this assumption is accurate enough.) Just as a new year could be started at any time in the calendar, new resolutions could be started at any time in the calendar.
  • Similarly, the passage of time which occurs as one year ends and another begins isn't at all unique. Someone looks about the same a day before and a day after his or her age changes, tattoos or hangovers notwithstanding. When the "calendar's birthday" happens, the interval of time that has passed isn't a year; it's a day. Days change...daily. Celebrating the passage of mere time is an odd exercise when time is always passing. We're always waving farewell to the past and planning for the future. If a person thinks of a new resolution on Dec. 22 and waits until Jan. 1 to do something, which is more significant and concrete: the action the person took on the "magical" first day of the new year, or more than one week's accumulation of days of inaction?
  • From the standpoint of results ("metrics", if you want to annoy people), resolutions are not enough. This isn't news, but that won't stop the news from producing several fluff segments about it. Traditionally, people make resolutions, attempt to follow the resolutions, fail, and perhaps try again the next time the digits of the year increment. For claiming to be a civilized society of knowledge workers in the information age, this approach is remarkably careless. Although an inspiring goal is vital for the sake of motivation, resolutions should include other items: sub-goals/milestones, plans, contingency anticipation (you don't expect the universe to cheer you on, do you?), rewards, punishments, support, recognition of difficulty. Moreover, if someone isn't willing to "bother" with such details, that may be a sign he or she would truly prefer for the resolution to remain in daydream-land, where valuables have no cost.
  • Some excellent character-based humor has come out of the tendency for people to overlook their greatest flaws as they form resolutions about comparatively trivial minutiae. We shouldn't be surprised. Personal qualities often serve as both strengths and weaknesses, leading people to think the quality is no problem, or to think the people around them are the ones with problems (isn't marriage challenging?). And as for the flaws people are oblivious to...would they still have them if they were aware of them? A pivotal change to one's path requires a clear view of where someone currently is. Before drawing up new year resolutions, perhaps one should spend time considering Who is responsible for past failures? Who is standing in the way? Who is the saboteur? One might find the unpleasant answer by looking himself or herself in the I.
  • Furthermore, after deciding on a resolution, the plausibility of the resolution bears evaluation. Without extreme tactics (think of those who talk about "breaking down newbies to rebuild them"), sustainable behavior modification happens slowly and gradually. In my opinion, not everyone is capable of every behavior, doing every action, developing every habit. Bodies differ. Genes exert limits and tendencies. Within those parameters, dedication can accomplish a lot, yet some resolutions are, realistically-speaking, improbable to impossible for some people. Don't let failure to reach an implausible or impossible goal steal the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile. Readjusting the resolution is still preferable to trashing it.
To the extent I have a resolution for the new year at all, it would be to act on the good intentions I had during the past year. That should keep me busy.

1 comment:

  1. CresceNet12:41 PM

    Gostei muito desse post e seu blog é muito interessante, vou passar por aqui sempre =) Depois dá uma passada lá no meu site, que é sobre o CresceNet, espero que goste. O endereço dele é . Um abraço.