New Year, New Me?

by Novi Zhukovsky | 1/9/19 2:10am

New Year’s Eve. Thousands brave the frigid temperatures of Times Square to remain in place for 12 hours and wait for the famous Waterford crystal ball to drop. Others swill champagne at glitzy parties or dine out in expensive restaurants to ring in the New Year. Of course, there are those who scoff at New Year’s excess and sleep peacefully through the midnight countdown. But after the hangovers pass, and the glitter has been swept away, the majority of us look hopefully to our New Year’s resolutions to help reverse the damage of the night — and possibly bring us closer to that “new me” lurking just a few unlikely steps away in January.

These resolutions range from eating healthier to increasing gym attendance to being more positive — aspirations to “better ourselves” in the coming year. But are these resolutions serious, or just arbitrary and unrealistic goals created by businesses to increase revenues for the long winter? And even if people decide to make resolutions, what are the chances they will actually stick to them?

Grace Rubin ’22 boasts a successful week-long streak. This year, she resolved to moisturize her skin every morning. Although her moisturizing in the past has been spotty due to self-described “laziness,” Grace has pledged to “take out a little chunk of my day, a few minutes every morning, to moisturize my whole body.” She hopes that in addition to benefitting her skin as a whole, her resolution will make her happier during the winter months.

Rubin believes that because her New Year’s resolution is tangible and relatively small, it will be easy to follow. And as she is looking to change a concrete part of herself, she knows exactly how to accomplish her resolution. Additionally, because her aspiration produces immediate, physical benefits, she projects that she will feel motivated by her supple skin on a daily basis to keep up her new regimen.

So far, all signs are good. But she doesn’t want to go out on a limb and predict success quite yet. “It’s only Jan 6,” she said, “but I hope I continue with it.”

In terms of larger, more demanding resolutions, Rubin views these types of goals as much less likely to be achieved. She believes that they should be broken down into smaller actions so that they are less daunting ­— and have a reasonable chance of success.

“People are probably more likely to stick to their goals if they make clear guidelines of how they are going to achieve that goal,” she explained. “In general, smaller steps are easier to integrate into your daily habits so that it becomes a life-long change. Ultimately, if you are really motivated to make a big change, I think that some people can manage it. But personally, I think I would have trouble making a major lifestyle change.”

Izzy Calihan ’22 has not set any New Year’s resolutions for 2019. In fact, she views the whole resolutions craze with some skepticism.

“I don’t feel super strongly about New Year’s resolutions,” she said. “I think that some people find them helpful and productive, and that’s great, but for me, it seems like an arbitrary time to change yourself.”

Similar to Rubin, Calihan believes that the key to keeping resolutions may be to break them down into simple, tangible actions.

“If you are being unrealistic and trying to change yourself in a massive way on New Year’s Day, that’s probably not sustainable,” she said. “But if you want to make a small change and New Year’s is a catalyst for you to set out on that goal, I do believe that people can be successful in making small changes in themselves.”

When asked whether she has made a resolution herself, Calihan demured.

“Resolutions can work for some people. But I just know I wouldn’t keep a New Year’s resolution. I just don’t really have the mental will or strength.”

Maddie Doerr ’22, on the other hand, is a big proponent of resolutions. In fact, this year, she broke down her goals into two categories in order to maximize the chances of success.

“First, there are specific things that I want to accomplish,” she said. “And those are goals that I know I probably can achieve. The other category are things that I aspire to, in a more general sense. I don’t like calling those things resolutions because that makes it easier to break, but by calling it an aspiration, it’s more of a fluid thing that I can work on throughout the year, making it more likely for me to be successful.”

Additionally, Doerr believes that writing down the resolutions and posting them somewhere visible will help ensure that she sticks to them. She also finds that keeping a resolution list is a good way to reflect back on the year and apply lessons of the past to the next one and fine-tune her expectations.

“Some of my resolutions I will definitely be upset if I don’t keep,” she said. “But there are some that I know are a little unrealistic. As long as I can keep a few of them, particularly the ones that are the most important to me, I’ll be pleased.”

While Maddie generally views New Year’s resolutions positively, she acknowledged, paradoxically, that they can be a way of procrastinating. If you’re going to stop biting your nails on Jan. 1, why not start on Dec. 12? She argued that although Jan. 1 is a good turning point, there are other times throughout the year that can mark change. These include birthdays, first days of school or starting a new job.

Rubin sees a similar flaw in New Year’s resolutions, but also believes that having a specific day to mark change is helpful.

“It is useful for some people to have a set date in which they commit to change,” she said. “Overall I think that New Year’s resolutions are probably more positive than negative.”

So, whether you have an elaborate, 5-step plan to reverse your diet and exercise regimen and develop abs like Zac Efron, or simply want to learn to play the piano, only time will tell whether or not your resolutions will be kept. Maybe you’ll have a few cheat days or skip a few piano lessons. But whether or not you actually form resolutions for Jan. 1, one thing is clear: there’s no time like the present. If you practice the piano for 10 minutes every day, by the end of the year, you might not wind up a piano maestro, but you will definitely be better (and more pleased with yourself) than when you started.