On new year resolutions

We are already three weeks into the 2018 and I think it is a good time to share an interesting thought about New Year Resolutions. New year resolutions are really great, it is like buying a mood boost on a credit: you can already feel benefits of becoming a better person without doing anything. And payback of a failed resolution will come only later.

To understand something better it is useful to break it down to components. Let’s try and do the same with New Year resolutions.

Why people make new year resolutions

This is obvious — they want to become better. What does it mean “to become better” ? Everybody decides for themselves: someone will want to take care about own body by loosing weight or exercising, give up or reduce drinking, stop smoking. Or, perhaps, learn new language, travel more, learn to play some music instrument, call parents more, etc. Countless things, but all of them share same quality: using ability to reason to decide which action to take to become a better person. Seneca in his letters from a Stoic argued that man is different from animals in two ways, apart from physical difference: ability to reason and being social. If we agree with that, then we can see that new year resolutions are exercising ability to reason. People know that cutting down on alcohol, losing weight, learning to play musical instrument, etc will make their life more enjoyable and it goes against immediate impulses like eating a sweet cake.

Why are people making new year resolutions at New Years midnight

We have seen that the main drive of new year resolutions is to try to become better, whatever it means for particular individual. Lets explore why it is happening at new years night. The answer is simple: past and future.

The Future. First of all, the coming year is giving us something to work on. It is clear interval of time with defined boundaries and most importantly, it is not filled yet with our actions and memories. We have some plans for it and that new year around the corner is our oyster. It presents us with an opportunities and time to make ourselves better humans.

When we are making New Year resolutions at midnight of 31st, we are not afraid about coming future. We look at it as a time of opportunities, without being scared or anxious about the negative things which it can bring: illness, death, loss and so on.

The Past. At the midnight of 31st of December previous year ends and becomes thing of the past. The second between 31 Dec 23:59:59 and 01 Jan 00:00:00 is probably the most special second in the whole year. Current year becomes past. Just let that sink in. Even if you look at words we use, what a change happens! We say this year, current year, but once that second hand on the clock moved past midnight, it becomes last year, past year.

This change the way we talk about same interval of time in our lives, gives us an opportunity to leave that year in the past. What have happened — already happened and it is ok to leave all bad things there. Yes we were drinking too much, eating too much, exercising too little, not being kind, talking to parents too little, etc… But it was in last year. This, new one, is different and we will be able to change myself.

So what is special about new year’s eve

Two things: we are leaving all our mistakes and negative things in the past and looking into the new years future without worry and fear. We focus on the opportunities of this time stretch at our disposal.

Now, once we broke down the new year resolution to its components, it is easy to see that there is absolutely no reason why we can not use same approach in every day of our life. Every present moment is the same as that midnight second at 31st of December: your past is already behind you and you are free to decide what are you going to do now to become a better person. No need to wait for the new year to stop worrying about past mistakes or look at future block of time without fear.

You now clearly see that you do not need new year resolution and there is nothing special about that second and midnight between 31st and 1st. The only thing that is stopping you from becoming a better person by letting go of the past and looking at future as a time of opportunities is yourself.

p.s. It is interesting that even back in Seneca time philosophers already argued about balance of letting go of the past and extracting lessons from it. And not worrying about the future but still prepare for what it might bring