Every year, I write out my New Year’s resolutions. And every year, I have evidence of my failure.
Black-and-white promises glare at me from a computer screen, the phrases forgotten—until I look over my journal as an end-of-year ritual.
There were the heady days of 2013 when my oh-so-ambitious goals accumulated around being a better citizen of the planet: recycling and composting more thoroughly, producing minimal garbage, going vegan, finding environmental volunteer opportunities. None of that happened.
Then there was my personal totalitarian regime of 2014, decidedly pre-children. The list that year reads like a drill sergeant’s playbook: Exercise a minimum of five times a week (cardio three times, yoga twice), write for myself a minimum of three times weekly, meditate daily and no sugar or alcohol on weekdays.
Psychology tells us that you have the best chance of keeping your New Year’s resolutions if you make them reasonable and contained. Clearly, I have never gotten the message.
But then, in 2019, something happened: I decided to give up on the grueling demands of productivity. Maybe it was the influence of books like Jenny Oddell’s How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, or maybe, after having two babies, a strange elixir of satisfaction mixed with weariness made my resolutions more abstract.
I didn’t want to be a cog in the meat grinder of accomplishment. I was ready to quietly quit my resolutions before the phrase even became a thing. And so my resolutions became more like intentions—things like “go heart over head” or “how you do anything is how you do everything.”
Yet in doing so, I broke another cardinal rule of resolution-making: the need to create specific goals integrated into measurable routines. For all my obsession with New Year’s resolutions, I was so bad at them. But isn’t everyone? Research shows that as many as 80% of people abandon their resolutions altogether. That means, as widespread as resolutions are, four out of five us remain quitters at heart.
Then, in 2021, the unthinkable happened for a resolution-lover like me: none at all. I couldn’t summon the energy for even the vaguest of ideas. After living through the dumpster fire of 2020, I wanted the world to get better—not me.
But I’ve come to realize that looking back on my resolutions of yore isn’t about keeping promises, it’s not about how well I did (or didn’t) do. It’s about having the opportunity to reflect on what’s important, to assess the mood of the year you’re about to enter, to speculate on how what happened yesterday will carry you into tomorrow. An unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates supposedly said.
I’m not giving up on making New Year’s resolutions, and I never will. The sense of closure that end of year brings makes it ripe for reflection, especially in California, where we are devoid of so many seasonal cues. So however ambitious or however small, no matter the number or the content, you’ll find me thinking and talking about my resolutions for the last weeks of December.
“Plans are useless,” Dwight Eisenhower once said. “But planning is essential.”
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