For most of my adult life I have hated New Year’s resolutions. I thought they were dumb. It seemed that if you want to make some changes in your life, you should just do it. Why wait for a particular time of year? But this year I have been thinking about making a couple resolutions. I just want to make ones that are not stupid and shitty.
New Year’s resolutions are super old school. January is named after the Roman god Janus, to whom promises would be made by Roman citizens about how good they would be in the New Year. Janus is often referred to as the ‘two-faced god’ because he is pictured with two faces, one facing forward and one facing back. Janus represents our capacity to look back at the past and to look forward to the future.
When you think of it that way, making some resolutions could be useful and interesting. They provide an opportunity to look back at the previous year and consider making some changes for the year to come. But they can also be guilt-trip inducing downers that accomplish little but making you feel bad about yourself. We are encouraged to make resolutions that are geared toward making us better producers and consumers of goods, rather than making us better people.
I am going to offer some suggestions that might help you to make better resolutions. If you are like me on most years and think that resolutions are stupid and shitty, good for you. I don’t want to try to convince you that they are not. This is for those of you thinking about making some promises to the two-faced god Janus.
My suggestions are pretty straightforward. Here it is: Resolutions need to be flexible, social, attainable, interesting, and rewarding.
- Make flexible resolutions: We could all make some positive changes in our lives that will, most likely, actually contribute to making us happier and healthier. But life is unpredictable. Our ‘ups and downs’ often create diversions that end up taking us in unexpected directions. And sometimes those directions are not compatible with keeping our resolutions. We have to ask ourselves if we failed to keep a resolution, or successfully adapted to changing circumstances.There is no need to “write in” flexibility or opt-out clauses into your resolutions. Just realize that you are making these promises to yourself with the information you have right now. When circumstances change, you may need to alter your course. That is not a failure. That is successful adaptation.
- Make social resolutions: Find a way to rope in your friends and family. It is so much easier to remain true to a resolution if you are not the only one. This is particularly true for families and roommates. If you are resolving to keep a tidier house, that will be really difficult and frustrating if you are the only one of four people sharing a space to be making that effort. This is not so much about accountability, although I’m sure that plays a role to some extent. This is more about having people to talk with about your experience. Watching a great movie by your self is a little disappointing because we want to share our experiences with others. It is the same way with resolutions. Share for peak enjoyment.
- Make attainable resolutions: I am a yoga teacher, a studio owner, and a University lecturer. I am a husband and a father. All of those things require my time and all of them are so worth the time they require. I don’t want any of those things to change. So if I make a resolution to get my old band back to together, record an album and go on tour, one or more of those things may have to be abandoned in order to fulfill my promise. But I don’t want to abandon any of my current pursuits. So I would have made a resolution that is unattainable. That doesn’t mean I should throw it away altogether. It just means I need to scale it down a little. Maybe I should just write some songs with some friends this year. Maybe I need to get back to writing song lyrics in addition to yoga articles. Maybe more poetry would help get that part of my brain kick-started. There is an attainable goal that can be scaled up to a reunion tour at some point. Write more poetry in 2017.
- Make interesting resolutions: You need to be at least a little excited at the prospect of your resolution. It needs to put a little wind in your sails. If you don’t find your resolution to be interesting, you may need to re-work it. For example, rather than resolving to keep better financial records (yawn) you could make a resolution to learn some new accounting software or read a few books on book-keeping. Still not exciting? How about framing it in terms of a challenge? You could challenge yourself to finding money you are wasting on subscriptions you no longer use (your home phone or cable television, for example.) Rather than simply keeping better financial records, your resolution could be to find $100/month in savings.
- Make rewarding resolutions: Now what to do with that extra $100/month you just found? Make resolutions that pay off. Make resolutions that, when you succeed, end up improving your quality of life. There are so many good examples: Starting a vacation fund, committing to learning and practicing yoga, cooking at home more often, or even just going for a walk every day. You should be rewarded for your commitment. You should be training yourself to be stay true to your resolutions, not because you want to avoid the guilt that comes with failure, but because you want to earn that sweet reward.
Now sit down with some friends and family and talk it over. Make sure you are making promises that are flexible, social, attainable, interesting, and rewarding. Make sure your friends and family are doing the same thing. And enjoy yourself doing it. Recognize that life is weird. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we intended them to. But sometimes they do.