New Year’s Resolutions: for some of us they work. For some of us, December 31st marks the ending of an old year, an old us; and when the sun will rise the next morning, it’ll be time for change. The start of a new year is the stereotypically perfect time to turn over a page in our book and start again. And each time, we say to ourselves, “this time it’ll last.” In 2012, I woke up on January 1st and vowed that every day, before bed, I would journal. I would write my thoughts, my feelings, my doodles, whatever I felt like writing. In 2013, I promised that I would eat healthier; fruits, vegetables, maybe even go gluten free or vegan? And in 2016, I swore to my mom that two times a week, I would go to the gym and exercise on the elliptical machine. And with the start of each year, with the rise of each sun on January 1st, I said to myself, “this time it’ll last.
But, as expected, it didn’t last. Not in 2012, in 2013, in 2016. Because for most of us, the reality is that before long, we find ourselves falling back into our old habits, our old routines, as we move on with our lives and our new page is torn out of our books and tossed into the recycling bin. It only took nine days before I stopped journaling and starting watching Gilmore Girls instead, only seven before I caved and ate a donut (because who are we kidding, we all know I love food – quirky and relatable, I know). And it was an astoundingly pathetic three days before I realized that exercise was not my thing.
But why does this happen? Is it that we, as a group and as individuals, are weak-willed? Are we simply lazy? To find out, I did some research, and found out about a little something called “false hope syndrome.” False hope syndrome is when we place an unrealistic amount of weight on expectations that, in reality, end up falling through. For most of us, New Year’s Resolutions are about one thing: change. And so the sun goes down on December 31st, and when it rises the next day, we expected to be just that: changed. We put all of this hope into statements that although can’t transform us as people but are expected to. Maybe, just maybe, if we can just stick to this one, everything else in our lives will start to fall into place. But when these empty promises start to fall apart or fade away, when we don’t see immediate results, if we aren’t instantaneously better people or healthier eaters, we get frustrated and angry, or we just give up. Why can’t I do it? What’s wrong with me? I knew it wouldn’t last. It never does.
But the reality is that, when the sun rises on January 1st, we will all be the same people, just like we will all be the same people when we wake up on any other day. And we will continue to be the same people in the following days, the following weeks, maybe even the following months. Because, in actuality, change takes time. Change is a gradual process. Change is a series of mistakes and learning from those mistakes, of little baby steps in the right directions, and sometimes a step back. And while we place all of our expectations on one “magical” or “transformative” night that will supposedly turn our lives around, it is, rather, the many days and nights going forward that matter the most.
This is not to say that resolutions are hopeless or self-change is impossible. Rather it is to say that we, as people, need to learn how transform these resolutions into healthy and achievable goals for ourselves, and patiently work our ways towards them. Make resolutions for yourself all year round. Rather than putting all your hope and expectations on a single night, constantly think: how can I make myself a better person? Turn your overnight promise into a year long process. Take baby steps. Be mindful. And if once again, your resolution falls through and you find yourself right back where you started, that’s okay. But maybe, just maybe, it won’t.