New Year, Not So New Me

The start of the new year brings many opportunities for self-improvement, but the tradition of New Year’s resolutions often does more harm than good.


sketch by Rachel Tian

The new year causes many to make a list of resolutions, but accomplishing them may prove to be more difficult than you’d expect.

Kristen Kinzler, Junior Class Editor

It’s almost that time when everyone’s focus shifts towards the new year. After the traditional holidays pass, it’ll be all about 2020. And I guarantee that once we enter into the next decade, you’ll hear the dreaded phrase, “New year, new me!” at least once.

Can you feel the upsurge in optimism? The naive promises and lists of excuses that accompany it? The vows to work out six times a week or actually follow a budget that we all know are going to be abandoned far too soon?

On January 1st, almost everyone will be hitting the gym, drinking buckets of water, and mastering their brand new life plans. The motivation will be fresh and strong. In a remarkable miracle, it’s as if everyone has become a better person overnight!

That is, until two weeks later, when half of the newly inspired athletes have abandoned their gym memberships, no one wakes up early to do the some kind of trendy self-care yoga, and humans go back to being predictably average, frustrated creatures.

This spike in optimism is all brought to you by New Year’s resolutions.

New Year’s resolutions have existed for thousands of years. The tradition began back in 2000 BCE when the Babylonians made vows to their gods. It’s a practice that has stood the test of time, even becoming secular as the world evolved. 

It’s obvious why resolutions have always been so prominent. They represent a fundamental truth of human nature: we all desire a fresh start. We want to believe in new beginnings and possibilities — we cling to the notion that nothing horrible we do is permanent and that it’s never too late to do what’s right.

No matter how noble resolutions may be, I’m sick of them. I’m sick of the weak enthusiasm with which they are made. I’m sick of acting like someone can flip a switch on their whole lifestyle, all while watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest and drinking Welch’s Sparkling Grape Juice.

The truth is, all too often, the promises we make to ourselves fail. In fact, every year, 60% of Americans set New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% achieve them. Most resolutions fall through by mid-January.

So, yeah, it’s easy to see why many gym enrollment rates plummet just a few weeks into the new year.

Maybe the reason so many people cannot keep their resolutions is that they have a naive view of how easy change can be, and their incorrect notion is profoundly counterproductive. If you begin the new year with unrealistic expectations, you are setting yourself up to fail.

Real change is hard work. It requires physical fatigue, headaches, and withdrawal from the instantly gratifying things that are actually harming us, along with a constant level of self-awareness that is exhausting to maintain. 

Most people, feeling bubbly and hopeful on New Year’s Eve, aren’t prepared for that kind of commitment.

Besides, creating resolutions with the expectation that you’ll be a new person in the new year is futile. We cannot hope to change our whole mindset just because of a random day, just like we cannot divide segments of our lives by twelve months.  

Nothing in life is that linear, regardless of how much we wish it is. The only thing that will change come January 1st is the date written on your paper, not who you are as a human being.

To be fair, my distaste of such a widely recognized tradition comes from being entirely resistant to change. I don’t drink as much water as I tell myself I will, and I don’t exercise nearly as much as I vow to. Plus, I procrastinate more than I’d like to admit. While these traits are not positive in the slightest, I tack them up to being an imperfect human. 

The only thing that’s changing come January 1st is the date written on your paper, not who you are as a human being.”

I can live with that. I still go on runs a few times a week and sometimes even finish my water bottle. I still try to set deadlines for myself and plan ahead for my week. If I don’t always succeed, that’s okay.

Doing the best you can every day will, in my view, always be better than making a hasty and seemingly absolute promise. I’d rather be someone who tries and fails than someone who waits until the end of the year to right every single one of my wrongs.

It’s a common theme often lacking in New Year’s resolutions — the recognition that we sometimes make mistakes. All too often, it is assumed that if you miss your gym appointment one day or procrastinate studying for one test, then your new lifestyle is over. There’s a sense of it being an all-or-nothing affair, which offers no benefit to those of us just trying to get by and accept the occasional shortcomings as they come. After all, essential elements of personal growth include self-forgiveness and compassion.

For those who still wish to have something to work towards in 2020, I recommend what my psychology teacher told my class when I was a freshman: pick a word that you want to define the new year. Build the next year around an emotion or a principle. You’ll be much more likely to live by a word you choose than by some grandiose resolution.

January 1st is simply a day on the calendar. If you really want to better yourself, don’t wait until the ball drops and think it will suddenly be easier.

Most importantly, please, on behalf of all the possibly pessimistic realists at NASH like myself, don’t come back to school after break boasting about your new goals and plans. Actions speak louder than words, so we’ll see if your resolution even makes it through the month.