In Defense of New Year’s Resolutions

Maybe you’ve done this before. Somewhere around the end of December or as late as the beginning of January, you’ve stood in front of your figurative or literal mirror, looked yourself square in the eyes and said the most magical of magic words. “Self,” you’ve said, “this year is going to be better. You are going to be better. Because as of tomorrow, we are going to start – !” 

The list is endless – we’re going to start exercising! Doing better in school! Eating healthier! Reading more! Working smarter! Spending money wiser! Actually vacationing for a change! Calling our parents regularly! Volunteering on our days off! Writing the next great American novel! and (my personal favorite) Just being generally better at everything because how hard is that really! With these magic words, we all ensure that this year is different – definitely not like the New Year’s Resolution Fiasco of 2012. Boy, that was humiliating. We’ve since learned that New Year’s resolutions are completely ineffectual, so this year we’ve made a goal. A promise – no – an Invigorated Epiphany. It will be our transcendent journey from the frustratingly flawed incompetent we are now, to that incredibly sexy, highly intelligent, strong, lovable, witty demigod just waiting to be unlocked. We have the potential – we have the drive – and we have a brand new year for the taking.

There’s no mystery as to how this quite often ends – tears, disgust, disappointment, pessimism, gloominess, self-deprecation and a generous box of twenty-four doughnuts. Our bright dreams fade into the dull backdrop of reality and we realize that maybe we’ll never transcend. Maybe we’ll always just be our frustratingly flawed selves and no amount of resolutions or epiphanies will ever change that.

It’s a kind of self-ashamedness I think we’re all familiar with in some form or another. After awhile, we stop looking at ourselves in the mirror (literally or figuratively) because we don’t think it’s worth it – what’s the point of making a resolution if we can never make it work?

The thing is, despite what the diet adverts, exercise regimens, academic tutors and occupational therapists might insist, the real benefit of a New Year’s resolution isn’t seeing it through to the end. It’s not even the process of doing it. It’s actually just that one moment, or series of moments, when you look at yourself in the mirror and feel optimistic about your future.

That’s the real magic of New Year’s – feeling the endless possibilities of a fresh start and the potential for something great. Feeling the freedom to try anything, to take command of your own life in a productive way and be the person you’ve always wanted to be. It’s the stuff of joy and hope and wholehearted living – but for whatever reason, it so often pales in comparison to the tallies of our wins and losses. If we win, great – if we lose, we’re losers, and losers ought to give up.

So even if you’ve given up on New Year’s resolutions, here’s my proposition: this year, no matter what you face, carry with you that sense of optimism and purpose. Succeed some, fail some, but more importantly, keep hoping all year long. Remember to look at yourself in the mirror, take ample moments to dream, and keep that freedom of possibility with you for all of 2013.

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