New Year’s Resolutions are mostly bunk.
But I don’t think they’re entirely bunk. I think there’s at least some merit to attaching our motivations to certain rituals, because it can give us the subconscious impression that they’re more important, more serious. It can add some gravitas to them.
However, rituals and traditions draw a lot of their power from how well they seem to work over time. Let’s say one day you found a cool-looking stone, so you picked it up and kept it. Later that day, you accomplished a major goal. Your brain might leap to a certain connection, making you say “Oh, this must be a lucky rock! I’ll keep it forever!” The next time you attempt something major, you succeed. Now you’ve got two whole data points supporting the “lucky rock” theory, so it naturally cements itself in your brain forever.
Every time you attempt something major, you rub your lucky rock for good luck. I absolutely, 100% support this superstition and wouldn’t discourage anyone from it. Why? Because even though it’s obviously hogwash, it’s probably helpful hogwash. You thinking you have a lucky rock doesn’t cause any harm, and it actually might be helping by giving you boosts of confidence that in turn result in actual performance improvements. It’s just a superstitious ritual, but it can be a good one.
The problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they aren’t like the lucky rock. Your impression of them in your mind is probably not a positive one. You probably roll your eyes when you hear about them, associating them in your mind with three weeks of overcrowding at the gym in early January followed by an immediate drop-off. It’s so common to abandon New Year’s Resolutions quickly that it’s become a meme, a running in-joke. Which is why they don’t work. In order for a ritual or superstition to have any ability to help you, it has to be something your illogical brain can latch onto as maybe actually working.
Your logical brain (hopefully) will always know it’s just superstition. Your logical brain (hopefully) recognizes that there’s no better day than today to start a new goal or begin achieving something you want to achieve. But you can get a lot of extra motivation by harnessing the power of that subconscious, illogical, lizard-brained System 1.
(Why do you think sales offices so often have actual bells or gongs they ring when people make big sales? It’s to associate that noise with success, and then when you hear it all day long you’re more motivated. Did you think Pavlov only applied to dogs?)
Now, here’s my other problem with New Year’s Resolutions, besides the fact that they’ve been ruined culturally. My other problem is that once a year is a terrible frequency to set big new goals for yourself.
So let’s start a new tradition, you and me. New Month’s Resolutions! A month is a much better frequency to try things. Long enough to give you room to grow and make mistakes, but short enough for you to set attainable goals and reach them. And that’s at least 12 major accomplishments per year! You can do a lot in a month. You can start a blog. You can write a song; you can probably write a book. You can lose 5 pounds. You can get a new job, or a promotion. Or launch your own product. You can try five new foods, see a new city. Many things!
Let’s go for it! My New Month’s Resolution this month is to build something. Physically construct something that I don’t already know how to build. I’m thinking a swingset/playset for my kids in the back yard, but it could turn into something else. I’m flexible!