It’s the holiday season and 2017 is calling our names. As we reflect on the mistakes, fails and the L’s we took this past year, we begin to think about ways to redeem ourselves. We think about how we can leave old versions of ourselves in the past as we hope to become transformed individuals. Quickly and far too often, we fall into the common trap of creating a laundry list of New Year’s resolutions.
There is a rush of motivation and determination as we anticipate a fresh start on the first of January. “Drink more water.” “Start exercising.” “Stop procrastinating.” “Eat healthier.” “Sleep more.” I’ve made these kinds of resolutions every single year, but have I begun exercising on a regular basis? Not exactly. Have I stopped procrastinating completely? Absolutely not. Have I cut down on my consumption of chocolate chip cookies? You can already guess the answer.
I fall into this vicious cycle and tell myself that I’ll just begin my fitness journey next year or that I can finally stay on top of my schoolwork starting next quarter. By postponing my goals, however, I’m only feeding the procrastination within me even more — an unfortunate paradox. We feel hopeful when we make these resolutions, but they are often hopeless, considering they are typically broken by the time we’re halfway into January.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe the concept of New Year’s resolutions is wonderful. But despite the aura of optimism and new beginnings, these resolutions are also quite dangerous. By deciding to follow through with our resolutions starting on Jan. 1, we’re giving ourselves a full stretch of 365 days to finally change our ways for the better. But why wait an entire year when you can start now? You can start working out any day of the year. You can start drinking more water today. And you can most definitely start living in the moment this very minute.
Besides this lenient time stretch, the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they tend to be too vague. For example, what exactly does it mean to “be healthier?” The goals we make should be reasonable and achievable. Maybe being healthier means eating at least three different kinds of fruit a day or cutting down on sugar by eating dessert only once a week. When we break down our goals into smaller parts that we can imagine visually and see ourselves accomplishing, we are already on our way to developing the habits we desire and becoming the person we aspire to be.
When making New Year’s resolutions, we need to be careful about implying that next year will be even greater and better, if and only if these resolutions pull through. If we’re constantly attaching this “better and bigger” factor to the new year, we’ll never be satisfied with ourselves. Saying that you’ll only be happy when you lose weight or when you begin to see results from working out, for example, is not healthy for us at the end of the day.
Besides, the cultivation of self-improvement and self-compassion is a gradual process; it has no endpoint because we can only keep growing. So don’t box yourself into your strict resolutions and wait until the new year to start being happier. Don’t let the final results of your resolutions determine how great 2017 will be. We are only growing into better, more experienced and intelligent individuals with every failure and success.
Contact Clarissa Gutierrez at cgutier ‘at’ stanford.edu.