I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions, and it’s always hard to explain why in casual conversations. It comes off as if I have some holier-than-thou attitude wherein I believe I have no bad habits or areas to improve.
That’s not it at all.
Back in Middle School, I was very superstitious. I’d believe all sorts of silly things - Sumukh got higher grades than I because he had that fancy new Dr Grip pencil. Or maybe because of that Staedtler eraser? It then moved on to other things, like habits. Maybe Nidhi got higher grades because she had such neat handwriting. Or maybe Amit always wrote his homework down in that planner of his every day without fail. It’s silly, but when I was twelve it seemed that writing my homework down in that planner for every class without fail was the hardest thing the world. Obviously, some of these “superstitions” really did help, and some didn’t. But that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that each trimester, I was determined to try a hodgepodge of things to make sure I’d get good grades.
Without a fail, about two or maybe three weeks in (if even that long), I’d have one or two days where I’d miss. I’d have messy handwriting or maybe I forgot to write down my homework in my planner. So the logical conclusion, in my thirteen year-old mind, was to pull myself up, and try again next trimester. In my mind, my streak was already ruined, and for whatever reason, I simply couldn’t try again the very next day. I wanted perfection - a perfect streak of a full trimester, where every single day had perfectly neat handwriting and a fully filled out homework planner.
And therein lies the problem.
Obviously, in building any new habit, you’re going to have days when you fall through. Building a habit is a hockey stick graph filled with ups and downs, but simply giving up until the next logical unit of time - in my mind, a trimester - to try again is simply ludicrous. In my case, it was letting perfect be the enemy of good. If I didn’t hit every single day of a trimester, then what did it matter? Might as well wait until the next one to try it. Spoiler alert - I never had a perfect trimester. But the key is that neither did Sumukh nor Nidhi nor Amit.
This is basically what grown adults are doing with New Year’s resolutions. Year after year, a feeble 8% of Americans seem to meet their resolutions, and yet we all have to participate in this farce of ‘picking’ a resolution for some bizarre reason. Indeed article after article will even preach at you that the reason you failed is simply because you chose the wrong goal (hint: it’s not) without ever questioning the fundamental premise of a yearly goal in the first place.
Let’s do some quick back of the envelop math, shall we? You have 90 years to live. Let’s ignore the first 20 years, because what teenager really cares about building habits? If you’re a teenager reading this, then good for you! I hope you will put these into practice, but in reality you’re in the minority. So you have 70 years remaining. In all that time, if you have a success rate of 100%, you’ll have built up 70 habits. But more than likely, since we an abysmal 8% success rate, you’ll have built up 5.6 habits. What an amazing life you’ve lead…
It seems that resolutions are the only place in life where a yearly checkup is sufficient. If you told your boss - hey, don’t worry about it, I’ll send you a status update a year from now, would that fly? Of course not. In software we have daily standups for status updates, and weekly retros. Presumably our bodies and our lives are more important than our jobs, so why don’t we do the same? I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions because the velocity is too slow, and the moments of genuine retrospectives are too few.
Instead, I’ve shifted to building a habit every two months - and now that I’ve gotten better, a habit every month. I started simple, and usually I broke them down into three-month themes.
For example, the first quarter was dental hygiene, and they were rather trivial habits - but like most habits, they seem far too difficult at the time. The key is choosing habits that you must do every day. Periodic habits are very hard to build, so choose something simple and easy that you are forcing yourself to do frequently.
Notice that all of these are something done daily, not generally time consuming (though often annoying), and they all break down larger tasks into smaller steps. The point is to get yourself in the habit of doing things you general are too lazy to do or can’t be bothered with doing.
Find an app that easily visualizes your progress for you. I had initially started out with google spreadsheets, but filling out the sheet itself became my first habit and that was no good. My favorite app has been the Loop Habit Tracker - you can find it on the play store here.
It quickly and easily gives you the general trend of how you’re doing across multiple habits.
Along with a deep dive into any particular habit.
You can add new habits at whatever pace you want; life is a marathon we all run at different speeds, so pace yourself and don’t burn yourself out. But I would argue a yearly cadence is far too slow for anyone who seriously wants self-change. People who feel the urge to wait for a particular calendar date to start forming good habits remind me of my twelve year-old self, just waiting for that next trimester.
Life doesn’t always give you another trimester or another year. If you want to change, then change. Stop posturing and agonizing over which new popular habit will make you look cool to all your friends. Pick something you want to do and just do it. If you have been practicing any field for eighty years, there’s an expectation that you have a rough mastery over it. Why is it any different when it comes to living? Why are people not spending as much energy being better at living as they are at sports? Age should be a sign of wisdom and maturity - a sign that you have mastered how to live, not that you’ve just been a jellyfish, floating on by as life moves around you.
But there’s that holier-than-thou attitude popping up again. It must be what makes me so popular at parties.
P.S. After getting an Apple Watch Series 2, it’s evident that Apple agrees with me. They remind you to standup almost every hour; they give you an activity rings progress monitor twice a day. Something as simple as standing up, as long as it’s done on a regular and daily occurrence, can definitely become a habit. The key is constancy. For iOS users, the best habit app I’ve found is Streaks, which has won multiple Apple design awards and also has a great Apple Watch app.