Should You Craft New Year Resolutions?
New Year resolutions get a bad rap because most people forget about them within days. I know, I used to be one of the worst culprits. The cynical ones would scorn, “Why must you depend on an occasion to set goals? Wake up your idea and start achieving goals any time of the year!”
Indeed, psychologists led by Latham and Yukl have found that those with hard but doable goals perform better than those simply told to “do their best”. Having specific goals which are challenging will help us to outdo our regular selves.
I heard them. That’s why I stopped my annual ritual. Instead of grand resolutions, I relied on to-do lists. These lists are immediate and actionable and proved effective for me as a student: I never missed an assignment deadline. Yet outside school, years of ticking boxes have not brought me closer to achieving my longer-term personal goals.
Missing the Big Picture?
Just like grand resolutions, to-do lists can be futile in the pursuit of things which truly matter to us. While grand resolutions are often lost in the clouds, to-do lists can trap us in the soil. Who wants to spend their entire lives growing the wrong tree to climb?
In a nutshell: Too long-term, too easily forgotten. Too narrow, too meaningless.
Let’s return to the psychological finding. Experiments, by necessity, draw their conclusions from defined and measurable outcomes. The outcome in Latham and Yukl’s 1975 study was the number of trees cut down. So what if you set yourself just the right goal that turns you into the top-performing logger? Is that what really matters to you in the long run: An ozone hole?
The Craft of New Year Resolutions
While psychology can give us ideas to move faster, it is up to us to decide where to move. Hustle alone gets us nowhere. The world of work—school is also work—only wants us to run faster in their direction. We must remember to look and strive beyond the immediate, the demands to keep our heads down in the mud. And what better way to look up into the skies than through New Year resolutions!
By definition, New Year resolutions are scaled to a year and relatively long-term. A well-crafted resolution should then serve as a compass to direct our attentions for the year ahead. If it points in the right direction—right for you, at this particular phase in life—then your resolution the following year will most likely not be the same one.
Once the core goal is set, there is no point rushing into drawing plans for all 12 months or 52 weeks at one go. Heed the psychologists’ advice. Set specific goals, hard but doable, for the immediate week or month ahead. And then set goals for the next, and the next, as they come.
Resolving to Resolve
The problem does not lie with resolutions. It lies with the individual making the resolutions. Is this your goal, or somebody else’s goal? Is this goal truly meaningful to you? You cannot answer these unless you are willing to discover new things about yourself, no matter how much you think you already know.
Over the past year, I have gone through several cycles of mud digging followed by cloud gazing. The journey ahead in unpacking myself is lifelong. So is the journey in the work of relationships. So is the journey in the craft of writing. I resolve to keep them central in my heart, so that they will not be buried amidst distractions in my mind.
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I have obsessed, for years, about protecting time for the things which matter most to me. All those timetables and timelines I made… I forgot. Perhaps, I never knew. I never knew that memory is not merely the stacking of items in the back of your mind. Memory is about pulling together your whole body and pushing for the life you must live. Stop flexing, and you will only forget to remember. So here I am. To work my memory into better shape!
As for the new year, I am looking to resolve my flickering commitment to writing. My resolution for January is to create at least two pieces of writing I am satisfied with each week, whether an Instagram caption, a diary entry, a blog post, or a book chapter. This can be hard, but still seems doable. And I shall take stock at the start of each month to check if I should tweak this goal, whether to accommodate busier work periods, focus on specific projects, or tend more to other life pursuits.
It’s on to you now! How will you craft your resolutions?
Latham, G. P., & Yukl, G. A. (1975). Assigned versus participative goal setting with educated and uneducated woods workers. Journal of Applied Psychology, 60(3), 299.