Why I Still Make New Year's Resolutions Even Though It Feels Arbitrary
January 1st does not have a monopoly on self-improvement.
My journal is full of disparate notes – conversations I overheard on the subway, things my partner said that were too sweet not to write down, shopping lists, grocery lists, goals, aspirations, quotes from books and movies, and, once a year, New Year’s resolutions. For me, writing down observations gives them permanence – a plug to hold fast to the memories that fail us and wash away. I write down goals for a similar reason – it makes them stick.
My commitment to writing things down really solidified when I was a college student in Austin, Texas, and many of my professors gave us a related mandate: stop taking notes on your computer, and, instead, start writing them down in a notebook. Going through the physical motion of jotting down lecture notes makes it easier for your mind to grasp them; it’s much harder for our brains to encode something when we’re just typing keys. Also, it’s proven that this makes us better students: according to a study referenced in Forbes, “when people were taking notes, they remembered many more important facts and many fewer unimportant facts” – thus, “writing things down doesn’t just help you remember, it makes your mind more efficient by helping you focus on the truly important stuff.”
When we create a New Year’s resolution, we’re resolving to evolve, change, grow, or accomplish. This certainly feels like “the truly important stuff” that Forbes is arguing we should do a better job of focusing on. It’s about intention; identifying a north star for the new year to which we can direct our efforts. And writing down something that I resolve to pursue, like a healthier diet or a new skill, means that I am reminded of that commitment to self-betterment on a regular basis, and inevitably more likely to achieve it.
Here’s the thing, though: resolving to pursue better versions of ourselves doesn’t have to be an exercise exclusively done in celebration of the New Year, and January 1st does not have a monopoly on self-improvement. Life is comprised of many, many small moments, and each one presents an opportunity for change. The context of the New Year is a good, though arbitrary, one, and gives us the framework of a clean-cut “fresh start,” but it’s not necessary to wait until the last hour of 2019 arrives to reassess your ambitions, or write new ones. Restricting ourselves to only one opportunity a year to commit to resolutions is unnecessarily limiting. Consider each day as brimming with opportunity for transformation, then resolve to pursue it, regardless of calendar month.