If you don’t keep your New Year’s resolutions, you will feel like a failure. So if you don’t want to feel like a failure, keep reading.
Of course, feeling like a failure doesn’t necessarily mean being a failure; it just means feeling the same way you would feel — or think you would feel — if you were a failure, which doesn’t tell you much, because even if you’re right that you’d feel that way if you were a failure, you’d probably feel the exact same way if you weren’t a failure but only thought you were. But we can set aside those epistemological concerns for the time being. The reason to avoid feeling like a failure is not that feeling like a failure is good evidence of being a failure but that feeling like a failure is emotionally painful. You don’t want that.
Before I address the most important strategies for keeping as many of your New Year’s resolutions as possible, I will point out some common pitfalls. (I assume they’re common, anyway, since they involve pits that look prominent and easy to fall into.)
One of the most dangerous pitfalls is the ill-fated attempt to avoid the problem just by choosing not makingto make resolutions at all. Unless you are content with yourself and your life, it is almost inevitable — especially with all the New Year’s talk on every side of you — that you have either made some New Year’s resolutions already or will end up making some soon. If you think I’m wrong, think again. Making resolutions does not require any special resolve on your part: if it did, then half of what people call resolutions wouldn’t count. A New Year’s resolution can just be the passing thought, sometime in December or January, that you might like to do something differently in the new year than you did in the old one. To avoid making resolutions of that type, you would need a resolution not to make resolutions. This is a resolution you would break in the very act of making it. Don’t do that.
You should also avoid making the resolution that you will break all of your resolutions. This might seem like an easy resolution to keep, if you assume that all the rest of your resolutions should be easy to break. The hitch is that the resolution to break all of your resolutions is also a resolution, so you will not have broken all your resolutions unless you break this one too. Therefore, the only way to keep this resolution is to break it. But you cannot both break it and keep it, so there is simply no way to keep this resolution. Don’t try.
Since you are stuck finding some other way to keep New Year’s resolutions than by breaking them, I will divulge some helpful secrets. Part of the problem with most goals, including New Year’s resolutions, is that we make them without knowing whether we will fulfill them. The main reason for this is that goals and resolutions are usually about future actions; and since we do not know the future, we do not know if we will actually perform these actions. But merely diagnosing this problem reveals an absolutely foolproof way to make resolutions you are sure to keep: make resolutions that are only about your actions in the past or present. That is, instead of resolving to do a good thing you probably won’t do, resolve to have done a good thing you already did or are doing. If you are proud that you ate vegetables at least once every day during winter break, don’t resolve to eat vegetables every day this term at Carleton; resolve to have eaten vegetables every day during the break. Because the past cannot be undone, you need not worry that you will ever cease to have eaten vegetables every day during winter break of November 2022–January 2023. It is a resolution not just for the new year but for the rest of time.
Now you know how to make resolutions you can keep. The only problem is that, as I said before, you will inevitably make some accidental resolutions just by thinking to yourself that you’d like to do something differently this year, and these resolutions will still be about the future. One approach to this problem is simply to make so many resolutions about the past and the present that they vastly outnumber your resolutions about the future, so that you could not break more than a small percentage of your total resolutions. But if you’re determined to keep all the resolutions you make, even about the future, you might try letting go of some of the rigidity with which you interpret your resolutions. If you want to start sleeping for at least eight hours every night, for example, ask yourself if part of what makes this goal seem difficult to fulfill is a narrow and crudely literal conception of sleep. Are you assuming, for example — perhaps without fully realizing it — that sleeping requires being unconscious? Broadly conceived, of course, sleep is simply rest. All that rest requires is a peaceful, relaxed mind and body, and there are many ways to achieve this, from ASMR videos to contemplative late-night conversations with your roommate. Once you acknowledge this, you might realize that you already are getting eight hours of sleep every night. All you need to keep your New Year’s resolutions is an open mind.
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