New Year's Resolutions

 Topic: New Year’s Resolutions

The wheel of time has turned once more, and the new year is upon us. The idea of resolving to be a better person in the coming year has its roots in ancient Babylon, about four thousand years ago. A 2022 poll by YouGov indicated that about thirty-seven percent of Americans made some sort of resolution or set a goal for 2023. I found that number surprisingly low, but I want to talk about the practice of making New Year’s resolutions

The usual New Year’s resolutions involve improving our health, either by getting in better shape, eating better, or quitting smoking. According to gym statistics, about twelve percent of new gym memberships begin in January. Unfortunately, most of us do not maintain our Efforts: Around eighty percent of of those new gym customers will quit by the end of May. Millions of smokers resolve to quit the habit every January, although nicotine is the hardest addiction to kick; around seventy-five percent of those who quit will relapse within six months. Altogether, only about nine percent of those who make resolutions will actually keep them. Almost half of them quit by the end of January.

Other common resolutions include spending more time with one’s family and traveling more. These are all noble goals, and worth expending Effort on. How you spend your time is all a matter of priorities; if you decide that travel or time with your family is more of a priority, you will make the time for it. Netflix users spend over three hours a day just watching streaming video. That is time that could have been spent bonding with family or reading a good book or going exploring somewhere. It is not that there is anything wrong with Netflix itself, of course. It is just that you have to decide how you will spend your time and where you will focus your attention.  

Keeping vows, even those made only to yourself, is the foundation of the Virtue of Integrity. It also involves Effort, Mindfulness, and Self-Control. We should only be making those promises that we know we can fulfill, and then apply our will towards doing so. Of course, if you do make resolutions, Path teachings encourage you to strive to become a more Enlightened person, and make your vows with that in mind. (One trick to help you keep your resolution is to write it down or share it with somebody, or both.)   

I have a hypothesis as to why most people who make resolutions fail to keep them: I think it is because we do not make realistic resolutions. We join a gym with the intent to work out once a week, only to find out that working out is hard and makes your whole body sore for days. It also takes a long time to start seeing results, so we get discouraged. We start a new fad diet, trying to completely revolutionize our eating habits, but underestimate the power of cravings and forget that the body will react violently to sudden changes in consumption. Or we quit smoking cold turkey, and then the nicotine withdrawal hits us like a truck. I think it would be more attainable to start with just taking a walk around the neighborhood every evening, or just start adding a salad to each night’s dinner, or cut back to half your usual daily cigarette count. In other words, I think it would be better to be a little more gentle with ourselves and our bodies. I personally have found that making small adjustments is easier to maintain in the long run.

I do not make special resolutions for the new year, but I do periodically resolve to make a change in my behavior. Sometimes I am successful. Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Have you been able to keep them?



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