In My Opinion
Let’s ring in a meaningful New Year
Ten . . . Nine . . . Eight . . .
We did it again, another New Year and another new decade. Welcome to 2020.
The New Year’s holiday has been a time for people all over the world to celebrate with favorite traditions —countdowns, fireworks, champagne. . . and resolutions. For many, the advent of a new year means big promises to take big steps to make big changes. This will be the year to get a better body, a better salary or a better love life.
Others resist the urge to set a resolution and make fun of the rest of us because they know that surveys consistently report that only 6 percent of us stick to our resolutions 100 percent and only 14 percent of us admit that we “mostly” stuck to those things we promised ourselves. Instead of a new start, the New Year offers a new start on old habits.
So here’s my suggestion for a 2020 New Year’s resolution: Let’s resolve to end resolutions. Why bother? Why bother to set all of these goals when chances are, not only will we not achieve them, but we will forget them halfway through the year? Then we’ll pull them out of the chest of buried dreams again next year.
So let’s stop. Let’s put an end to this tiresome tradition and find a new way to move into a new year. If we approach all of our life goals the same way we approach our New Year’s resolutions, we’re in big trouble. Resolutions are a type of goal, but really no different. The only difference is that we declare them at the beginning of the year.
Maybe the better questions to ask are: Why do we need goals at all? Do we need to be so achievement-oriented? Do we always need to be thinking about what to do next? Why do we need to constantly stress our bodies and stretch our minds? Why do we feel the need to live in the future instead of the present?
New Year’s resolutions shut out our need for mindfulness, an ability to live in the present rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. Thinking back to the person we did not want to be in 2019 and resolving to correct that image in 2020 just sets us up for self-criticism and judgment. We risk becoming depressed from what we were in the past and becoming anxious about what we want to become in the future. Mindfulness – living in the present – lowers stress, reduces harmful reflection and protects against anxiety and depression.
My other difficulty with New Year’s resolutions is that they always seem to be so self-focused. Eat healthy, get a better job, climb a mountain -- they are all noble pursuits and, ultimately, may benefit all of society, but their central point is inward. Might there be room some new year for resolutions of thanks for all we’ve been given? Or for an expression of purpose to help those less fortunate? That’s where a society that so truly needs it can benefit – especially if it becomes a new year’s tradition for the youngest among us.
The new generations – do they make New Year’s resolutions? That’s another of my concerns. Seems like the oldest of us don’t make resolutions because there’s so little time to make a change. Younger people may not set resolutions because they figure they have so much time in which to make corrections. But how about the very young? We often complain about their lack of ambition, intent, and passion, but are we offering them counsel or setting an example of how to not just make a New Year’s resolution but also how to set goals for a lifetime?
Resolutions are an important part of a goal, they can be the impetus that leads to a life accomplishment. That’s something every young person should come to understand – all of us who set these constant resolutions every New Year’s Eve should have the same realization. Accomplishments are achieved after long, hard work and they are more powerful than the simple platitudes issued every New Year’s holiday.
I don’t have an all-encompassing answer to these questions and I’m not aware of any singular, definitive scientific explanation for why we feel the need to make resolutions every New Year’s Day and then so quickly watch them drift downstream days and weeks later. Most likely, we all have our own reasons for making resolutions or defining the more important life goals. These are mine:
- Goals are how things get done.
From everyday things like getting up for work in the morning to once-in-a-lifetime dreams like seeing the Great Wall of China, success is achieved when we envision our eventual accomplishment as a goal.
2. Goals are the language of the brain.
One of the most important functions of the brain—and the most recent in terms of our evolution—is executive function, a cluster of cognitive abilities that evolved to enable us to set and achieve goals. This brain function is what sets us apart from all other living things. Most other creatures react based on instinct; we take action based on planning.
3. Goals mean clarity.
Goals provide a vision and a direction. They give a destination and enable us to plan our course into the future. Without goals, we risk wasting our resources (time, money, energy), feeling confused and overwhelmed, and being unprepared when opportunities arise.
4. Goals give us meaning.
Goals give life meaning through purpose. Purpose is the deeper reason for why we want to accomplish a goal. Behind the stated goal (“I want to get a Ph.D. in psychology…”) is our desire to do something to improve our lives and the lives of others (“…so that I can contribute to the fight against mental illness.”). Purpose is what motivates us and moves us to take action.
5. Goals make us feel good.
As neuroscientists learn more and more about the emotional circuits of the brain, they are discovering that one of our most basic emotional reactions is happiness through pursuit. Being actively engaged in the pursuit of a goal activates the brain’s pleasure centers, independent of the outcome. It seems that we derive more pleasure from chasing our dreams than from achieving them. Could that overused adage about the journey and the destination have an actual biological substrate?
6. Goals mean progress.
In every aspect of human life, we achieve progress through setting goals. Goals are what drive advances in science, education, medicine, public policy, law, and government. Progress in all these fields happens when people set, pursue, and achieve goals. If there are no goals, there is confusion. And confusion can delay or thwart progress.
7. Goals need a sound default alternative.
Without suggesting that we should plan out every minute of our lives, think about what the goal’s default is: What do you do when you are not working toward getting something done? Is it a productive or enjoyable default? Or is it something that you later regret, like binge-watching a TV show or reading Facebook posts?
8. Goals keep us connected.
Common goals are the foundational block upon which we build communities. From families to sports teams, from small start-ups to large corporations, and from social movements to entire nations, the success of a group depends on how much its members believe in a common goal.
I realize that my reasons for setting goals may not be your reasons. What drives me to set goals, on New Year’s Day or any other day, may not be what drives you. But instead of making light of a tradition, let’s put our heads together to think of more reasons to keep the custom alive and make it more meaningful.
Happy New Year.
Fred Jacobs, CEO,
J-Ad Graphics Inc.