We make them, we break them, we promise ourselves that this will be the year we study more, be more, try harder, lose weight, quit smoking, climb Mt. Everest, make that first million, return to our homeplanets in triumph, and win that pesky Nobel prize.
That’s the first of January. The first of, oh, say… March, we find ourselves back in the same bad habits, usually thanks to the same bad reactions to the same bad stresses. Nothing’s changed except our morale; we find ourselves beaten another year by our own inertia, which took over where our newfound energies flagged.
More and more, we’re learning that if you want to change your habits, it’s by tricking yourself into new defaults. We know all the tricks, by now. We know to make our goals small, achievable, realistic, and public. We know to make ourselves change how we eat by focusing on adding one positive thing instead of taking away a negative; we know to fight not for what we want, but for who we want to be. So how do we always end up in the same place?
Well, for one thing, we’re making the same old resolutions. It’s still about losing weight, it’s still about studying more, it’s still about the same actions and the same habits. Here’s another way to look at it. You can’t expect the same person to do something different when given the same situation and no new information. If you want different results, you need to change what you’re doing. If you want to lose weight, stop relying on a resolution to do it, because if you’re relying solely on willpower, it’s going to fail the first morning you realise that bed is a much more comfortable place than the gym at 5 AM. (Which shouldn’t take you long; if you don’t understand this concept, you may need a cat to help.) However, if you have a gym buddy picking you up at 5 AM whether you’re awake or not, preferably one who’s been doing the same routine for at least a few years, it’s harder to say no. Or you could force yourself: change your T pass from the linkpass to the trains-only, making you have to bike to the train station. It will suck in the wet weather, but you’ll get fit.
Most of our resolutions focus on improvement, and this makes me happy. Seriously, whether we succeed or not, it’s heartening to me that deep down, we WANT to be better people. We want to improve. And for those of you, like me, who are looking at radical career transformation this year, I came across this article, “New year, new identity,” about how to help make that transition work by weaving it effectively into the narrative of your life. I think it also reflects on these little annual updates we try to make via resolutions. If we weave them coherently into our stories, we have to do them to still believe them true. I don’t want to get up at 5 AM to exercise- but I want to be someone who can, and that helps me do it. If I see it as an integral part of my narrative, it takes on meaning as part of who I am, and that makes it harder for the bed and the cat to keep me.
What helps you? Have you made any resolutions?