On the Failure of New Year’s Resolutions

Celebrating on New Year’s Eve is just harmless fun, even if what is being celebrated is the mere passage of time.  All our other holidays honor something or someone that is important in some way.  Never mind that we usually forget about what we are honoring and simply think about getting the day off, especially when we observe that holiday on a Monday so we can have a three-day weekend; we still have the excuse that the holiday means we care about whatever it is.  But when we take the day off in honor of the fact that another year has passed, we have to admit that we are being just a little bit frivolous, though there really is nothing wrong with that.

And when we kiss someone at midnight, when the New Year begins, the kiss is likewise meant to be somewhat frivolous.  Of course, for me, a kiss is never frivolous.  I have on several occasions excused myself just before midnight and hidden in the restroom until it was all over, because I fall in love too easily.  Not that there is anything wrong with falling in love, but I don’t want to become some woman’s love slave just because she happens to be in my vicinity when the New Year is being rung in.

Finally, the resolutions we make on New Year’s Eve are likewise best thought of as frivolous, sort of like reading your horoscope or indulging in your favorite superstition.  In other words, I find it is best if make a resolution that I really do not care whether I keep or not, like resolving not to call in sick so often just to get the day off, or resolving not to flirt with married women this year, a resolution that might be broken just seconds after midnight, if I forget to hide in the restroom.

But just as some people take astrology or some superstition too seriously, so it is that some people take the resolutions they make on New Year’s Eve too seriously as well.  In such cases, these silly notions stop being harmless fun and begin causing trouble.  Now, I have no doubt that there are people who, having read their horoscope, acted on it to their advantage, or who have had bad things happen to them on Friday the thirteenth.  And by the same token, I suppose there are people out there who have resolved to quit smoking or lose weight on New Year’s Eve and then succeeded in doing just that.  But just as astrology and superstition, when taken seriously, are more likely to cause harm than work to our benefit, so too are New Year’s resolutions more likely to result in failure.

There are three reasons why this is so.  First, when you decided you wanted to, say, quit smoking, the time to quit was right then.  By waiting until New Year’s Day to quit smoking, you are as much as admitting that your intention to quit is as frivolous as the holiday itself.  If you don’t take yourself seriously when you decide to quit, you will not succeed.

Second, New Year’s Eve happens only once a year.  To continue with the example of smoking, most people quit for a couple of weeks or months, and then start up again.  If you were counting on the magic of the New Year to help you out, you are likely to give up when it doesn’t, as if you have to wait until another magic moment comes along to try again.  But if you quit on some ordinary day for the simple reason that that was the day you realized you needed to quit, and then you relapse, you only need to try again a few days later, because one day is just as good as another.

Third, New Year’s resolutions are made public.  You announce to everyone that you are going to quit smoking.  On the one hand, this may help.  By making your resolution to quit smoking a social fact, you will be more motivated to stick with it, lest you look like a loser if you start up again.  But if you do fail after having socialized your decision to quit, your failure becomes socialized too.  Now you have to put up with everyone kidding you or reprimanding you about how you have started smoking again, and rather than risk such humiliation in the future, you are likely to just keep right on smoking and give up on quitting.

That is why it is best not to tell anyone you are quitting smoking.  As important as it may be to you, you will be amazed at how hardly anyone seems to notice that you have quit.  If someone does notice and asks you about it, you can simply say, “I am trying to cut back a little.”  But even if you admit that you are trying to quit, the fact that you did not make a big deal out of it, but only acknowledged your attempt to quit upon being asked, means that your failure will not be the occasion for mirth and ridicule.

The result is that if you do start smoking again after a couple of weeks, you will not be reluctant to try quitting again a few days later.  Because most people will not even be aware of what you are doing, your relapses will seem to be just temporary setbacks and not outright failure.

And there is one more thing, although it has nothing to do with New Year’s resolutions.  Some people will wait until they have finished smoking the carton they have just bought before quitting.  Alternatively, they will throw away what cigarettes remain.  Either way is a mistake. Don’t finish the carton and don’t throw it away, because not having cigarettes in the home will not save you.  Keep that unused carton in the cupboard.  That way, if you relapse, you won’t feel as though you have to finish the new carton you will end up buying before you try quitting again, and you won’t feel like a damn fool for having to buy more cigarettes if you threw a lot of them away.

Let your New Year’s resolution be, “I will no longer wait until New Year’s Day to make an important change in my life, nor will I make a big public announcement about it when I do.”

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