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The first week of the year used to have great significance for me. Throughout December, I’d write a list of all the things I’d change starting January 1. When the day arrived, I’d jump on the list with great zeal.
But eventually, real life would intrude, and my resolutions would give way one by one. By mid-January or so, I’d be disappointed with myself. Not a great way to start the year.
That changed about a decade ago when I made a new resolution — the only one I haven’t failed to observe since then. That year, I resolved to never again make New Year’s resolutions.
Although it’s an arbitrary marker, the beginning of a new calendar year is a convenient time to reexamine behaviors and attitudes. Many people take time off, and many cultural clocks reset. Also, resolution lists are common, which gives you cover when explaining new behaviors to others.
So, I’m not opposed to introspection during this time per se. But I have a couple of issues with the “lists of resolutions” approach.
The first is that such lists imply you can change overnight — literally. But sudden radical change is rare. Daily contexts and routines exert a strong pull, so you’re likely to revert to previous patterns.
The second issue is that resolution lists tend to be too long. It’s hard enough to implement one change that sticks, let alone ten. “New year, new you” is an alluring promise, but it’s a tall order. Every additional resolution is a potential point of failure that can bring the whole structure down.
So, should you give up on implementing personal changes this time of year? Not at all. As I said, this is a great time to pause and reconsider what you’re doing. The question is how to go about it. Here are a few suggestions that have worked for me:
- Focus on changing one thing at a time. Perhaps you’d like to start exercising, curb your drinking, and implement a more regular sleep schedule. Rather than trying all three on January 1, start with one. Then, once you’ve got it down, you can try the others. Slow and steady.
- Stage changes over several weeks. With the previous point in mind, consider making a roadmap of changes you want to implement. (You’ll find them easier to take on if they complement each other, as in the exercise-drink-sleep case.)
- Don’t think resolutions; think habits. Habits are a powerful force in your life. Some habits help, while others hinder. Rather than making resolutions about what you will or won’t do starting January 1, consider which habits you should give up and which you should take on. (James Clear’s Atomic Habits is a good book on the subject.)
- Consider impacts on your self-identity. One of the insights I got from Atomic Habits is that effective behavior change is identity change. Labels are powerful; it’s one thing to say you won’t drink anymore and another to call yourself a non-drinker, especially among your social groups. You’re less likely to retrench to old behaviors when your identity is on the line.
- Publicly declare your intention to change. By this, I don’t mean you should post a TikTok video or a blog post. Just don’t keep your intent entirely to yourself. Instead, think of someone whose opinion you value (a friend, partner, colleague, etc.) and let them know what you’re changing. Ask for help in keeping you in check.
I’ve had success with all these ideas at some point. And, of course, you don’t need to wait until next January to try them; you can always start again at any time.
However and whenever you do it, I hope you can reflect, reconnect, and re-energize. Now is as good a time of year as any to do it. In any case, I hope 2023 brings you health, happiness, and an abundance of good things.