New Year Resolution

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jan 1, 2017

Filed under: Random 44 comments

The old joke, “My resolution for the new year is 1080p!” is about the closest I get to anyone talking about resolutions for the new year. As far as I can tell, new year resolutions are this thing that everyone talks about and nobody does.

I get how they’re supposed to work. New year is a time of reflecting on the past. While doing so, we realize there was a bunch of important stuff you meant to, but you put it off all year because it was difficult or scary. Finish that novel. Lose some weight. Clean out the junk-filled garage. Come out to the family. Restore that old car you bought 3 years ago. Push that one really destructive person out of your life. Really make some progress paying down that college loan. So then you make a resolution to change this. You don’t want to get to the end of another year and still not have this thing done. So you make a resolution. Maybe you tell people about it, hoping the social pressure will motivate you. Maybe you write it on the fridge to you don’t forget about it.

The problem is, these sorts of tasks are the kinds of things we wish were already done, but we don’t want to have to do them. So then sometime in February that sense of determination and purpose is gone. You start putting off the job for the same reason you put it off last year: It sucks, and you’d rather be happy now than have the difficult thing done later.

That’s the stereotypical scenario, anyway. The thing is… does anyone really do this? Is this still a thing? People joke about the process all the time, but I never see people participate in it. The people I know in real life don’t ever do this. Same goes for my Facebook friends. It’s a ritual everyone talks about and nobody participates in.

This is not to say I don’t have goals. I’d like to someday make a soundtrack for a popular indie game. But I can’t make that happen by making a resolution because the thing preventing it isn’t willpower. I put a few hours into music every week, and I’m getting gradually more knowledgeable. But going pro isn’t something you can force. I can’t MAKE people like my music. I just have to get better. The masses are a heartless critic. People might say nice things about my work to my face, but the play numbers on my Soundcloud page aren’t going to sugar-coat the truth to spare my feelings. I can see how often a track gets played and downloaded, and that’s the feedback that really counts. In this case Soundcloud is telling me, “Nice try, but keep at it. You’re not there yet.”
I have other similar goals regarding accomplishments. I think they’re good goals, but I can’t advance any of them my making resolutions.

But maybe my experience is unusual? How about you. Did you make any resolutions in 2016? How did they turn out? Did you make any for 2017?


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44 thoughts on “New Year Resolution

  1. Well, I did a BIG one, which was to GET A JOB. So, overall, I’d call that a HUGE success.

    I don’t really make resolutions so much as use the new year as a time to think about what I’d like to do and try to put together some ideas on how to accomplish those goals. It’s more about reflection and reevaluation than about actually promising to do certain things. You never know how the year is going to work out. Some opportunities might come along that you never imagined. Some things might become impossible.

    Honestly, I don’t think the idea of resolutions is that great, because, what, basically what you’re doing there is listing to yourself all the ways that you think you’re shit. The goal should be to find something to get excited about. Even if it doesn’t work out long term, you TRIED something.

    So what about doing something like “here’s my list of things that I always wanted to do, and I want to at least try all of them this year”. Instead of “get in shape”, list “I want to try Crossfit”. Or “I want to try a low-carb diet”. Or “I want to try writing this great story that’s in my head”. It doesn’t matter if you try it once and decide that you hate it. The point is that you TRIED it. You have enlarged yourself and your range of experiences.

    Ultimately, that’s the only way to find something that you love to do. And it’s that love that will ultimately drive self-improvement.

    1. Also, recording each thing (however minor) as you try it is a great way to build self-esteem and realize that you ARE making progress in your life.

      1. Also, at least one thing on the list should scare the heck out of you even to contemplate trying it. I don’t have a problem with this because basically everything scares me. :)

    2. Phill says:

      Never been a New Year’s resolution person myself, but apparently one of the keys to a succesful one is to be specific.

      So “get in shape”: far too vague to be useful.

      “I want to try crossfit”: better, more focused, but still open ended.

      “I will do one 30 minute crossfit session per week for the first three months of 2017”: best of all. It has specific goals you can tick off each week, and a limited duration, so it is something you can complete. This is the sort of resolution that is most likely to be stuck with.

      Ideally once the three months are up you award yourself a prize and set a new specific, completable goal.

      1. I’ve tried that sort of specific–last time was when I did the 300 swings challenge. I wrecked my back. When you’re starting something new, you have no idea how long you’ll be able to keep it up or if you’ll just hate it outright.

        And arbitrary “prizes” are counter-productive for me. The prize is *doing the thing*. If it’s not, you should be doing something else.

        1. Syal says:

          Self-granted prizes are counterintuitive I think; if you weren’t trying to do something you would just get yourself the prize when you wanted it, so withholding it gets you in the mindset that this thing you’re trying is costing you enjoyment.

        2. Khizan says:

          Meh, the prize isn’t really important.

          The big thing is really just the “I have to go THIS many times” type of thing. It’s like how whenever you’re trying to motivate yourself to work on something you don’t want to work on, you go “Okay, I have to work on this for 15 minutes. If 15 minutes go by and I’m still not feeling it I can quit, but I have to give it a serious try for 15 minutes.”

          I find that giving myself that sort of permission-in-advance to quit really helps me stick with it long enough to get into it. Knowing that I’ve already given myself permission to stop at X time makes it easier to resist stopping at X-10.

          1. This sort of thing can help you get past a block if that’s all that’s interfering with you. But it can also make you indulge in Sunk Costs fallacy. “I have to finish this thing even though it’s hurting me, because I promised I would and I’ve come this far!”

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        Where I work, every employee has a set of goals per year, (not per calender year, though), and they need to be “S.M.A.R.T.”:
        (wow, that many interpretations on Wikipedia…). Where I work, that means “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timeable”. I.e. You say what you want to to, by when, what larger aim it contributes to, and it needs to be something where you can later definitely tick a box.

        This can be quite a help. However, I’d argue it also means that things which are hard to measure can fall by the wayside.
        The goals Shamus lists in his post are all definitely not “smart”, but could be tuned in that direction. However, things like “don’t lose your temper that often” may be much harder to put into that kind of framework. You could put things in there which might contribute (“don’t go to that website with the pointless political arguments”, or something which helps to get more sleep, work out, talk through some issues with certain people…), which ultimately those may help you be more balanced but may not be sufficient to reach the overarching goal. Reaching that may require to simply be aware of something, and change the way you think in certain situations, on an emotional level. Really hard to specify a quantity of improvement expected from a specific measure there … but still way more effective than “I’ll prolly shout less or something”.

    3. Hargrimm says:

      I’d advise against that if you value your joints, unless you know a good coach (chances are, you don’t, since you only need 1000$ and a 2 day seminar to qualify as a crossfit coach)

      If you’re a beginner, you should start with the ‘5×5 Routine’ if you want to do free-weights and ‘Convict Conditioning'(the one I use with some caveats i’ll get to in a moment) if you want to do calisthenics/bodyweight excercises.
      These two are just about the simplest workouts imaginable, since they just consist of five/six core excercises respectively.

      Most importantly, don’t forget to sleep well (7-8 hours for the average person) and eat well. (rule of thumb, 1-2g of protein per lb of body weight, low- or high-carb or balanced otherwise doesn’t matter all that much afaik if you get most of your recommended micros )

      The caveats to Convict Conditioning are imho the weird rep ranges and frequency
      standard recommendation for reps/sets with free-weights is:
      3-5 reps with 3-5 sets for strength
      8-12 reps with 3-4 sets for hypertrophy/muscle building
      15+ reps with 1-2 sets for endurance
      Since we can’t just add more weight in calisthenics, we need to adapt this a bit.
      I’d recommend starting with 3 sets of 3 reps and work up towards 4-5 sets of 15 reps before starting the next progression step.
      The author of CC recommends 1-2 workouts per week, which is too infrequent imo, the standard recommended 2-4 workouts per week is preferable.

      Doing all 6 excercises in a single day is overkill, so I split them up into 2 workouts A and B an do 3 excercises each day. Depending on the amount of sets and rest between sets you do, this can take about 30-60 minutes a day.

      For more fitness advice check out:
      Athlean-x (very clickbaity titles, but he really knows his stuff)
      Picturfit for some nice illustrations

      1. Those were examples, not an action plan.

  2. tmtvl says:

    Happy new year, everyone!

    My only resolution for 2016 was to train more, and I’m happy to say that turned out well. My resolutions for 2017 are to keep the training up and to find a job that I’m happy in.

    I’m not really big on new year resolutions because I’m more of a “decide to do something and then do it,” kind of guy. I hate postponing stuff because it means I never get done with all the stuff I want to do. If I get everything done as it props up I can just relax and not think too much about the future.

  3. MichaelGC says:

    I’ve only set new year’s resolutions once, and they were super-effective. But, there were special circumstances, and I’m sure it was those that made it all work. The new year aspect was an accident of timing, really, although it did certainly help as a psychological trick.

    No, that seems too light, somehow; too flippant. It wasn’t a trick, it was more than that … it gave me psychological leverage. And not to go into too much detail (i.e. any) but at the time I needed all the help I could get.

  4. Ardyvee says:

    I tried doing a new year resolution last year (or the one before). Just as you described, Shamus, it didn’t turn out particularly well. I’ve found that what I want to invest in, I will invest in regardless of whether I write it down on a resolution for the year. For 2017, the most I thought I should do (if I could call it a new year resolution) was to “get my degree”, which is an attempt at motivating myself, and perhaps explore one of the many ideas I have been mulling over at some point during the year (probably during the summer). The first, I was going to do anyway, while the second is more a wish or declaration of intent.

    With that said, I think I prefer end of the year reviews instead, which is what I actually did this time. It was nice to look back at 2016 and think about what I had done. For example, I started writing again on the last quarter, and by extension training my critic eye, which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. Looking back and acknowledging I’ve kept up with my self-imposed schedule felt quite nice, and I hope motivates me to keep it up.

    Of course, I am terrible at following plans to begin with, so I don’t think any kind of resolution or long-term plan was going to work anyway, without building the habit or the obligation.

  5. Last year my New Year’s Resolution was to get three cool nicknames.

    None of them were cool.

    None of them were funny.

    But someone did call me Kevin.

    That’s not my name, but I do believe I succeeded in getting myself a decent nickname by the name of… Kevin.

    1. Nick Powell says:

      Good job Kevin. I’m proud of you

    2. Syal says:

      I’ve got spare nicknames, from people I’ve lost contact with. I’ll lend you some.

      You can have… let’s see…

      “Steve”. Your second nickname is Steve.

  6. Neko says:

    I picked a relatively minor thing to do this new year: migrate the cards I actually use into a new wallet that isn’t about to explode from all the receipts and crap I shove into it and never remove.

    1. Richard says:

      I empty my wallet once a month, when the bank statement arrives.

      Nearly everything goes straight into the bin, but it does at least give me an opportunity to check for unexpected items on the statement.

      – This is why I like paper statements. It’s an actual physical thing that arrives and reminds me to “do the money stuff”.

  7. Christopher says:

    I never tried any New Year Resolutions. At least, none I can remember. But I have had a similar thing where, at some point, I sit down and go “I need to watch more movies to expand my cultural repertoire” or “These guys are let’s playing the whole MGS series, it would be fun to tag along and play this series I never tried before”. Those didn’t lead me to change my lifestyle or anything, but I did see 6 Rocky movies and played MGS3, MGS4 and MGSV that year. I’m in a similar boat right now where me and some friends are trying to do a film club where one person suggests a movie every week and we all watch it. I’m guessing that’s gonna last all of two weeks at this rate, but I’m not opposed to trying that kinda stuff once in a while(as a guy who watches like three movies a year otherwise).

  8. I made a New Years resolution once, many years back now, and have successfully stuck to it ever since: Never again make another New Years resolution. Easily one of the better decisions I’ve made in life.

    1. Syal says:

      Same here. It’s wavered every once in a while, but I’ve consistently pulled that one off.

  9. BeardedDork says:

    To me if it isn’t something that can be established as a new habit in less than 15 minutes a day it won’t work.

  10. General Karthos says:

    I made a resolution to more strictly stick to my diet. My diet isn’t difficult to stick to, but my family kept finding reasons not to stick to it for one day or another. (Twice a week, we’re limited to 600 calories. The rest of the time we can eat what we like within reason.) But over the November-December season, we pretty much stopped observing it. And there were plenty of other cases where one member or the other of the family couldn’t observe it, giving us all an excuse not to observe it either.

    So I’m going to stop talking with my family about it, and just do it. (I live in Eugene, Oregon, the home of “Nike”, so “just do it” seems appropriate.)

    This is a resolution that I believe I can keep, because it’s a promise to resume doing something I was already doing for much of last year and that I wasn’t finding too difficult.

  11. Cuthalion says:

    I have the same experience — or lack thereof — as Shamus. I hear people talk about the practice of making New Year’s resolutions, but I seldom witness it or do it myself. I might’ve resolved to finish my tabletop RPG last year, but that might’ve been on my birthday. And I didn’t have it done by my next birthday. Ah, well. Progress is progress, and I am making that.

  12. MikhailBorg says:

    I got ten episodes of the Managlitch City Underground podcast out. Next year, I intend to complete and post at least twelve. I want to practice my writing in other areas; also I’ve rediscovered my limited drawing skills, and think I’ll return to exercising them from time to time.

    Unlike many resolutions, I’m excited about these. It’s simply putting a little extra effort into something I’m already doing and enjoy, so I think this could happen.

    I’d also like to lose enough weight to get back into some of my cosplay, but I realize that’s going to be tricker than making more time for writing.

  13. DTor214 says:

    I just tried to write a comment about my resolutions from last year and this year but it got too bleak too fast and by the time I finished writing it, I didn’t want to post it.

    Happy New Year, everyone!

  14. Zak McKracken says:

    A resolution? I’ve got a list!

    In past years, I made more or less half-hearted resolutions, promising myself to work out more, do my stuff in time, finally start a blog … have not really worked out, and I’m immensely frustrated not just because those resolutions did not work but because they’re things that should not be hard and would improve life enourmously for me. Not doing many of them has been endlessly frustrating, long before I started with the resolutions.

    So, this time, I’ve tried breaking them down into smaller pieces. For each month, I’ve go a tiny small goal to establish a small behavioural change or organize something. And I’ve shared the list with someone. Let’s see how that works out. To be really effective, these things should also have some clauses about what you’ll do if something fails etc., basically to get rid of easy excuses not to follow through. … I should prolly add those at some point or something … maybe … not now, no time!

  15. Mogatrat says:

    I made a private resolution to transition for 2016.

    Checked that off.

    Don’t really think anything can top it for 2017.

    1. Zak McKracken says:


      Congratulations for managing to do that, and I hope you’re doing well!

  16. Bubble181 says:

    I’ve made some resolutions and stuck to them.
    2016 I decided I wanted to brush my teeth *every* evening, no exceptions. Drunk, hung over, at work, in an airplane, sick, dead tired, what-have-you – no exceptions! And I managed, except for one day on vacation abroad where I literally didn’t have clean water.
    2017, same but in the morning, too. A bit harder, given my work schedule and eating habits and such, but let’s go for it.

    In previous years….Yeah, not always as successful. Some worked out, some didn’t. You really do need (or want) to be convinced of something. Saying “I’m going to the gym twice a week!” won’t work if you don’t actually like going to the gym.

  17. My resolution for 2017 is to not let it personally suck as much as 2016. Some of the personal stuff I can’t do anything about but there’s a lot I can.

    The other goal is try to knit a bit every day. I have a ton of things I want that I have to knit to get, so this just kinda makes sense.

  18. Dragmire says:

    I either get things done immediately or put them off forever. I lost weight earlier this year to help lower my blood pressure, if I had done something like wait until January to start, I’d never start.

    As a result, I don’t like making resolutions like that because it’s basically me saying, “I’ll get it done later” and ‘later’ never becomes ‘now’.

  19. Cinebeast says:

    Not really big on New Year’s resolutions, but I tend to make resolutions for myself at the start of a month. It’s usually something small, and I rarely get anywhere with it, but I’ve been doing pretty well the past couple of months.

    I wrote a book! It’s crap, but at least it exists.

    And I got a job! It’s my first, and it’s intimidating, but it’s a hell of a lot better than being unemployed.

    And those sorts of things need effort. They need you to stop and say, “I’m going to focus on so-and-so today/this week/this month,” and then if you keep up your end of things (and nothing goes wrong), then stuff happens.

    Also, hey, Shamus, I didn’t know you wanted to compose for indie games! (You composed for Good Robot, so it should have occurred to me already, whoops.) If I ever make something in the sci-fi genre I’ll ask for your help in a heartbeat.

  20. Ravens Cry says:

    I made a resolution last year to come out to friends and family and go full time, which, I did. So score 1 for resolutions.

  21. WWWebb says:

    My resolutions tend to be Lent-lite exercises in mindfulness: e.g. “Give up thing you do/consume more often than you realize“.

    I’ve been alternating between food things and internet or purchasing things:
    French Fries
    Humble Bundles
    Chips & Salsa (I live in TexMex country)

    Youtube wasn’t too big a deal several years ago. This year, I doubt I could do it. Pizza was probably the most annoying. There were a surprising number of events where pizza was the only option…thus proving it an excellent exercise in mindfulness.

    It’s much easier to give up things you occasionally do than to do something you’re not already in the habit of doing. The goal isn’t to “make a positive change in your life” as much as “be more aware of thing things in your life”.

  22. Writiosity says:

    I don’t bother with them. Instead, I simply set a target for the year: 5,000 words per week, every week. For the most part I hit that target. Was around 28k short for the year, but that’s simply because the 5k per week was for blog AND fiction combined, and I dropped the blogging around August time since it simply wasn’t worth the time or effort any more. And 5k original fiction words per week is actually pretty hard. Fortunately Nanowrimo in November lopped 50k from the remaining in a single month :3

    This year my target is 3,500 a week of fiction. That’s 500 a day, eminently doable :)

  23. Jack V says:

    Most people I know don’t really do new years resolutions, so I think the stereotype is exaggerated in both directions, how much people intend to make resolutions and how much they fail.

    But I don’t think resolutions are completely useless. Making a resolution you don’t really want to do but would like to have done is probably futile. But there are new habits I’ve acquired, when I’ve set a sensible goal, and having a point in the year to remind you to do that is somewhat useful.

    FWIW, I never really did new year resolutions, because I didn’t really expect to get anywhere with them, but this year after nanowrimo I decided to try smaller month-by-month resolutions.

  24. GloatingSwine says:

    If you live in much of the northern hemisphere, New Year is a really bad time to make New Year resolutions.

    For a start, it’s January, which is cold, dark, wet, and miserable. This is not a combination of properties conducive to allowing you to spend willpower on lifestyle changes. It is conducive to being lazy and seeking comfort.

    For seconds, everyone else is doing it and most of them are doing badly. Being surrounded by other people wimping out of their resolutions (and telling everyone they did) normalises “New Year resolutions” as things people fail at, so you are less likely to feel disappointed that you didn’t stick to yours.

    The best time to make your New Year resolution is about May.

  25. Pachyderm says:

    As for me, I became a vegetarian on January 1st. I can’t really say it was a New Year resolution, though ; i took that one exactly a year ago, and prepared for a year, collecting recipes and little hacks and progressively diminished my meat consumption, but now I can really call myself a vegetarian. Huzzah!

  26. Ingvar says:

    Many years ago, I decided (on a whim) in the days coming up to the new year, to write a small thing about every book I read. I found it quite helpful, all things considered, and have mostly continued doing so since.

    For a variety of reasons, I’ve had to modify it from “write about every book” to “write about every published book” and some years I’ve dropped out sometimes late Q1, early Q2, because I ended sufficiently back-logged that it was a chore catching up. But that aside, it is still something I do and try to complete every year. And these days, I also do some reading-related number crunching towards the end of the year.

  27. Cat Skyfire says:

    Every year, I try to get back on the ‘get healthy’ side. Some years are more effective than others. Plantar Fasciitis took a big tole on my efforts. (When every step is painful, it limits your urge to do simple things like walk.)

    Given that it is my people’s way to mourn by eating junk food and watching Netflix, I’m worse off at the end of 2016. But, my foot is mostly fixed, and I know I can do it. I just have to get off my butt.

    …after work. :)

  28. Aanok says:

    I’ve always had the impression that new year resolutions are very culturally American. I know they’re not really a thing here in Italy.

    Roll call from around the globe?

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Certainly a well-known thing here in Britain, and not as a recent import. That’s not to say everyone has them, of course, but everyone either does or is very familiar with the whole shebang.

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