New Year's Resolutions/ Image: Pexels
Image: Pexels

Reimagining New Year resolutions

As a child, I took New Year’s resolutions very seriously. They were a chance to try and be better with a commitment long enough to preserve your new proclivities as permanent parts of your personality. 

My family still regale people with my 2012 success story, when I dropped my fussy childhood eating habits by pledging to eat everything on my plate that year. It was a difficult resolution, made more challenging by one playful uncle sneaking olives onto my plate at every opportunity, but it worked. In fact, it took a while to undo some of that work (kids, there are happy mediums to things like this, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to eat something if you don’t want to). 

Resolutions are also measured by a pass/fail system

Are New Year’s resolutions helpful for students? A new year marks a fresh start for most people, but we don’t operate by a January to December calendar year as students. How can a resolution set during the winter break be expected to last and, more importantly, still be helpful throughout different periods of the academic calendar? The spring term, exam season, summer break, and returning for a new year (not even considering graduating) in Autumn are all different periods. 

Resolutions are also measured by a pass/fail system. As students, we stare down failure multiple times every term. Studying something at this high level, sometimes something we’ve never really studied before, is difficult. Self-esteem is hard to develop, and with resolutions, we risk our good intentions backfiring and making us feel even worse when we don’t achieve everything we set out to do. 

In my adult life, instead of resolutions, I have become a far greater proponent of the ‘theme system’. I first learned of this concept through the podcast Cortex. An episode of Cortex is an excellent jumping-in point for this, but if you prefer your ideas communicated in less than 100 minutes, you may prefer Cortex host CGP Grey’s YouTube video ‘Your Theme’. In it, Grey describes the endless rodeo of failing resolutions and promotes themes as an alternative without a clearly defined threshold of achievement. Themes, as Grey and Cortex co-host Myke Hurley define them, are intentionally broad and vague, such as Year of Growth and Year of Consolidation. The word doesn’t even need to mean the same to you at the start of the year as it does at the end. Grey emphasises that it just has to resonate with you. Year of Health may start off meaning more protein and a gym membership, but if life gets in the way – if your mental health takes a turn, or you get diagnosed with a chronic disease – your Year of Health shifts with you. You don’t fail. 

Rather than a New Year’s resolution to read two books a month, you could instead opt for a Year of Reading

The theme should nudge you in your decision-making. It could have the tiniest impact, but the consistent tiny impact builds up. Grey describes his experience with The Year Of Novelty. Instead of ordering the same thing at that place you always get food from, having this theme nudges you to try something different. Depending on your current lifestyle and your goals, a Year of Less or a Year of More may be appropriate – a promise you made to yourself as something extra in the back of your mind for you to consider whenever an opportunity arises to take something additional on. 

Rather than a New Year’s resolution to read two books a month, you could instead opt for a Year of Reading. Anytime you reach for Reels or Marvel Snap or however you want to stop spending your time, the theme should remind you that you could take this opportunity to read instead. If it turns out that books aren’t for you and you end up more into journal articles or comics, that’s still reading, so that’s still fine, and you haven’t failed. In his video, Grey states that self-improvement is hard enough and that exact data points shouldn’t matter, just the overall trend. In your Year of Reading, you may not end up reading two books every month, but you will end up reading more

CGP Grey takes this idea further and suggests that a year is too long for one theme. He prefers a seasonal approach for his own life, and I maintain that this is where the benefit lies for students. Your theme could last even a single term. Grey and Hurley have even developed a journal to help track themes and their development. They maintain this is entirely superfluous, but I have used it in the past and find journalling about the theme important in order to keep them present in your life. 

So this January, instead of a year-long resolution that you will (statistically, no offence) likely abandon just a few weeks in, consider a seasonal theme to guide you in becoming a better version of yourself, without pressure to hit some idealistic quota. 

Comments (1)

  • The spring term slump is barely a memory when bam, it’s exam season and everything else on hold. Then summer break throws open a whole new world of possibilities, making those January goals feel like ancient history. By the time autumn rolls around, it’s a whole new academic year with a whole new set of challenges and priorities.

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