I’ve been setting New Years’ resolutions as far back as I can remember. I used to get way too carried away with it, coming up with dozens of habits and hobbies that I wanted to begin or improve.
Each January 1st, I’d suddenly find myself spending each day working through a checklist of detailed tasks.
Read 50 pages? Check.
Workout for 20 minutes? Check.
Spend 10 minutes cleaning? Check.
Practice piano? Check.
This kind of goal-setting is totally unsustainable though. By the end of January, my checklist would be long-abandoned and my life would be back to how it was the previous year.
My Resolution for 2017
At the end of 2016, I made a major shift in how I thought about New Years’ resolutions and goals in general. I realized that I was stuck in a pattern of attempting to make a lot of life changes at once, only to drop them completely.
Instead of repeating my mistakes, I decided to focus on just one area of my life, the area that needed the most immediate attention: my drinking habit.
I’ve already written a lot about my sobriety on Medium, so I won’t repeat all the details here, but if you’re interested in reading more, this is a good article to start with:
By focusing just on getting sober, and not trying to change all of my habits at once, I was finally able to follow through.
Instead of giving up sometime in January, I ended up lasting the entire year, and I’m now rounding out my second year of sobriety.
Aside from the fact that I devoted all of my focus to sobriety, there was a second factor that made this resolution work: I had a clear, strong purpose behind the decision.
The types of resolutions I used to make, such as “read 50 pages a day,” or “cook more often,” might be good habits to have in place, but I didn’t have a powerful underlying desire to do them.
In contrast, quitting drinking felt like something that I needed to do. I recognized that it would vastly improve my life in fundamental ways.
Some people might have powerful motivators for reading or cooking, but they weren’t there for me.
My Resolutions for 2018
At the end of 2017, I tried to learn my lesson from the previous year and to become more focused in my resolutions. Instead of just one resolution, I expanded to two, but I still resisted the temptation to create a long list of a dozen new habits.
My first resolution was to start getting regular exercise (at least three times a week).
My health had already been improving during my year of sobriety, and I realized that I was finally in a place where I could get in shape if I really set my mind to it. Just like with quitting drinking, I knew that developing a regular exercise habit had the potential to change my life in a fundamental way.
My second resolution was to start practicing my Hebrew daily. I had learned Hebrew when I was younger, but since I don’t use it often I had forgotten a lot of it. My goal was to get back to at least an intermediate, conversational level.
I didn’t have any clear reason for wanting to learn Hebrew though. I wasn’t planning a trip to Israel, and I didn’t even have any Hebrew books that I particularly wanted to read.
You can probably already guess how these resolutions turned out. I stuck with the exercise because I had a clear purpose for the resolution. I gave up the Hebrew practice after a few months because I didn’t really have a good reason for doing it.
My Resolutions for 2019
This year, I’m going without any resolutions.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about potential resolutions for the next year. I’ve come up with a number of things that I want to do: start practicing my Hebrew again, learn to draw, practice piano regularly, and more.
With each of these goals though, I’ve asked myself “why?” And the truth is, I can’t come up with a strong compelling reason. I think they would each be fun, but I don’t have a clear purpose for any of them, and I don’t think any of them would have a major change in my life.
Without that clear purpose, I don’t think a resolution makes sense. It’s just setting a goal for the sake of setting a goal, which in the end never works.
That’s not to say I’ll avoid any of these activities. If I want to spend time next year learning to draw, I’ll happily do it. But I’m not going to put unnecessary pressure on myself by turning it into a “resolution.”
I’m not swearing off New Years’ resolutions forever. For now on though, I’m going to stick to only making them when I have a strong purpose driving my goals. That way resolutions can remain a tool for making real, lasting life changes, instead of just being a way for me to entertain myself for the first few weeks of January.