Traditionally people begin the new year by making resolutions that they will mostly have broken by the time February arrives. For instance, several people in my church have resolved to read through the entire Bible over the course of the earth's annual trip around the sun. Chances are, they will bog down by the time they get to Genesis 10. If not, Leviticus will doubtless kill the project.
Other people will of course determine that they will exercise more. The local gyms will be full of these people and the nearby 24 Hour Fitness place will be packed night and day. Until about February. The gyms won't mind the drop outs, because it will take a full year for most of the new signups to admit to themselves that they aren't going to use their new memberships; and in the meantime, the gyms will continue to collect their monthly fees that are being automatically deducted from their checking accounts.
The desire to improve oneself and to set goals in that direction is not a bad thing of course. But I wonder what effect the sense of guilt that comes when the goals are not met might have on people. Do they understand that there is no federally mandated requirement that resolutions be made? There are no police that will come to their doors when they eat that extra piece of chocolate cake. Sixty Minutes is not planning an expose about how you rolled over and went back to sleep instead of getting up to go jogging at five AM before you headed off to the office.
You'll scan the Bible in vain for any commandments ordering a yearly requirement to set goals for self-improvement. And there is nothing within its pages demanding that you read the scriptures even once, let alone for some specified time every morning.
No, the yearly tradition of setting resolutions on January 1 is just that: a tradition, like sleeping on one side of your bed instead of the other, or keeping your keys in the left hand pocket of your jeans rather than the right hand pocket. You could just as easily decide to make a resolution on the first day of summer or the last day of winter. Or perhaps you could simply decide to start doing something to improve your life on any random Thursday.
Still, it is not a bad idea to occasionally look at one's life and the choices one is making and decide that something should be changed—and then set out to change it. And the beginning of a new year, when you put up the fresh new calendars after the holidays are over seems like a good time for it.
So is there a way to make resolutions that one can actually achieve?
The cliché would be to say that you should pick achievable goals. For instance, resolving to flap one's arms and fly to Chile is probably not an achievable goal. Of course, no one in their right mind is likely to set such a goal. But people will resolve to do things that are not a whole lot easier to achieve.
Instead, you should think about the sorts of things you enjoy doing anyway and see if any of those things might work to achieve the self-improvement goals you would like to make. For instance, if you think you're out of shape and believe that you need to exercise more, think about the sorts of games or sports that you enjoyed in years past, before you got too busy to do them. Did you like playing tennis? Racket ball? Golf? Maybe you like riding a bike or taking walks or hiking. Maybe bowling? So resolve to get back into one of those games. If you resolve to do more of something you like doing, that also turns out to be good for you, then you'll be more likely to succeed.
And if you don't like getting up at 5 AM, and you know you're not a morning person, then don't try to resolve to do something that requires you to get up earlier. That's doomed to failure. I know from personal experience.
If you want to go back to school to finish a degree, then start out with a single class in the evening. Pick a subject that you find interesting. Don't jump back with a full load of classes that are on topics you don't care about. You may eventually need to take those classes, but wait until you get in the habit of being in school again, to where being in class is once again part of your normal lifestyle. Then you'll be up to persevering through the hard stuff.
Think in terms of incremental changes and linking them with what you enjoy doing; resolve to do things that you enjoyed once and somehow got out of the habit of doing. Your success in that sort of resolution is much more likely. And remember, you can start fresh any day of the week in any month of the year. Something to remember if you break a resolution on January 23. You can start over right away on January 24. Why wait until the next new year?