It’s healthy every once in a while to scrutinize some of the social conventions in our lives. In recent times, I’ve taken to putting New Years Resolutions under the microscope. I’m sure they have their place, but in the case of my life they fail to meet their purpose. The idea is that this goal setting will help us to improve our lives and our characters so we become better, happier people and contribute more effectively to our family, friends, and community. I’m all for that, and if New Year’s Resolutions help people, then set them by all means. But I know myself too well to believe that New Years Resolutions will fit in with the way I approach self-improvement.
I consider myself a very driven person. I’m very good with identifying a particular challenge or weakness that I’m currently facing. I think that’s one of the advantages that’s come of taking the time to get to know myself, mostly though extensive journaling. Once I identify the problem or the weakness, I set about fixing it. That’s when I do my goal setting, in the moment that I recognize the problem. Reviewing my life and setting goals to make it better isn’t something that only occurs to me once a year, so already the whole idea of New Years Resolutions seems redundant to me.
I think there’s also a few substantial flaws in the way we approach New Years Resolutions. For example, if I were to come up with a list right now of all the things I’d like to improve upon, the list would be pretty extensive. After all, I’m a fallible human being like anyone else and I have no shortage of areas I would like to do better in; I’d like to sharpen my academic prowess, be more sociable, be more fit, eat healthier, become a better artist, and of course be more deeply devoted to God, to name a few. The problem is that experience has taught that people don’t have enough time or energy to accomplish all that they would like to do, certainly not all at once.
Perhaps the real key to New Years Resolutions is not setting goals, but learning to prioritize. My sister was recently in a Sunday School Lesson where they were teaching how to set goals. Again. The comment she made to me was that people didn’t need to learn how to set goals, they needed to learn about how to focus in on just a few of those goals. I applied the idea to myself as I’m now about to leave for Rexburg and began a new school year. If I at new year resolved that I would be a straight A student, have a marvelous social life, be active in service projects, get a lot of exercise and an adequate amount of sleep, fulfill my callings in the church, remain spiritually strong, and kept emotionally stable, there is no way I’d be able to stick to all those resolutions. Now, I might eventually be able to establish habits that will allow me to do these things, but not if I had to divide my energy into discipling myself in so many different areas. Again, this is where I’d work a little bit at a time, beginning first with the ones I saw as more important (this is why I don’t usually get a lot of artwork done while I’m in school).
Here’s the question– If improving yourself a little bit at a time is how you make lasting differences, what is the point in taking one day to come up with ALL of the changes you want to make, and then freak out if you’re ‘failing’ by the end of the month?
Another point, I find much of my life a bit to unpredictable to anticipate what kind of goals will be appropriate. The semesters at BYU-I are short, and each one will be different in terms of my work load, how much free time I’ll have, what calling in the church I will have, and the people I’ll interact with. This in turn will change how I’ll schedule all my activities, what things will be given priority, how I will spend my weekends, what projects I will get involved in and so on. If I find that the year will involve a lot of heavy schoolwork, I’m not likely to make ‘take some time every week to do a watercolor’ one of my goals, since schoolwork takes priority (after all, I’ve got academic scholarships riding on my GPA) and I may not have enough time or energy left for watercolors. If it was an easy year, I would of course love to use the extra time to do watercolors.
Moreover Circumstances change throughout the year. You’ll have times when it’s all you can do to keep yourself from breaking down in front of people, and you’re just on survival mode. And there’ll be times when you feel like you feel like you will conquer the world. But there’s no way you an know when that will be on January 1st. Self-iprovement must come while adapting to these different experiences, learning through the hard times and taking the extra steps forward in the good times.
Again, if New Years Resolutions helps other people, more power to them. But as for me, I’ll just be aware enough to make the changes when the opportunity or need arises throughout the years.