by: Chris Warren
I wonder where and how long ago New Year resolutions came into being. I’m sure some sociologist has done the research. The backstory may be hard to trace but it’s not hard to figure out why anyone would make a resolution.
A little digging around produces anecdotal evidence of one glaring point: Those who make New Year resolutions have no sincere intention of keeping them. And those who are motivated for real to improve their lives don’t need to make dramatic declarations because they are already taking positive action, quietly, every day, without vainly calling attention to their goals.
New Year resolutions usually start getting tossed around at Thanksgiving, when the end of the year is near and self deprecation is trendy. After all, no one ever stood up at a Memorial Day picnic and said, “This year I resolve to ____.” Resolutions are as much about renewing vows that were never honest in the first place as they are about whitewashing a year of wasted opportunities.
Making promises for what will be accomplished later makes it easier to feel better about the failures of the past. It’s an adult variation on the gung-ho attitude a poor student has on the first day of school after returning from Christmas break: “Yeh, I know I really sucked last semester,” they will sheepishly admit. The hollow pledge immediately follows: “But now I’m going to step it up and pull good grades!” For them, the scoreboard is reset to zero. Past screw ups don’t count, at least not for the short term. Yes, I’ve been “that student”. More than once. Those making New Year’s resolutions, like born-again scholars, are more likely to be concerned about feeling better than doing better.
It appears that feeling good has become the the goal rather than the reward for achieving a goal. Society schmoozes underperformers so their precious self esteem is not hurt. Everyone gets a trophy. In cultures where an expectation of success is rigorously enforced, failure is a huge embarrassment. The student and the CEO are both motivated to do better because the last thing they want is to be humiliated before others.
Shame is a strong incentive to excel, unless of course you live in a world where being protected from every little disappointment is almost a religion. One of the big differences between a high achiever and a low achiever is that the high achiever knows they will be called out for their screw ups; self esteem is an aside. Our takeaway: The good deed should come before the good feeling. Too many want to get all warm ‘n’ fuzzy on credit. And they almost never pay off the bill.
That circles us back to why I think New Year resolutions are ridiculous: If someone is sincere about making a big change in their life, why do they need a special day of the year to do it? Isn’t just as easy (or hard) to lose weight, go back to school, quit smoking, take that dream vacation, whatever, on any other day as it is on January 1? For the truly resolved, no calendar is needed. For the pretenders, a lazy excuse is never more than twelve months away.