Thursday, January 3, 2019

New Spins on New Year Resolutions

Whether you make New Year Resolutions or not, it is hard to avoid the concept after the start of a new trip around the Sun. In some sense, not making a resolution is a resolution in and of itself. Instead of being antagonistic or overly idealistic, the best way to approach resolutions is to reframe them as an evolution of the self instead of a revolution that is doomed to failure.

What is a New Year's Resolution? Simply put, it is a commitment to one's self to change.  Historically, many cultures made annual offerings to the gods. The Romans made offerings to the god Janus, after whom January is named. Janus is the god of transitions and time, beginnings and ends. The tradition has carried forward to modern times, an informal custom thought about for a day or two and then soon forgotten. But why does it last then, if no one ever seems to keep to their commitments?

Every year, there are a few among us who manage to escape the futility of their resolutions. How do they manage to break free? You can't change other people, and you can barely change yourself, and yet... some people manage to change. How?

My theory is that these people change not by a revolution sparked by a resolution made at a single point in a time, but rather by a slow, gradual evolution that compounds over time. Instead of focusing on the goal (the "resolution"), they focus on the process that is either broken and needs to be fixed, or is absent and needs to exist.

In my own life, I went from couch potato to runner (and still occasional couch potato). I cannot deny there was some discrete day that I did go, buy running shoes, and go for a run. But I did not have a crazy goal of running a marathon that day. I just wanted to run a few miles and not feel defeated by it. And so I did. The next time, I ran a little bit more. And then some more. Until over time, it was not a resolution to run external to me, but rather a part of my identity: runner.

What makes me a runner though? Simple enough: the habit of running. The simple routine of putting on gym clothes, lacing up my shoes, and hitting the pavement (or ugh, treadmill). That's it - no grand ideas, no big aha! moments, just my headphones and the rhythmic pounding of the pavement.

Over time though, the habit compounds. I ran a 5k, then a half marathon, then several half's, then a full, and now several fulls. Nothing amazing to seasoned runners, but nothing short of miraculous to the guy six years ago buying a pair of shoes and hoping to knock out a few miles.

Don't make resolutions; make habits. For as the saying goes, you make your habits and then your habits make you. If you are going to resolve to do anything this year, resolve to a make a new positive habit and see where it takes you. Good luck!


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