I can’t remember the last January that I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution. Perhaps it’s the optimist in me, emerging blearily from the excesses of the festive season, when anything is seemingly possible. Perhaps it’s simply the fact that I’ve spent a little bit too much time with my family by then, and need to imagine a life without endless games of Monopoly and arguing over which Christmas TV repeat to watch tonight. Or perhaps it’s hearing about the rare success stories that trickle through from friends-of-friends, people who made miraculous transformations in just one revolution of the sun.
Either way, a new calendar year will always see me firing up the notes in my phone and typing in a flurry of ambitions as I tuck into a leftover turkey sandwich. With the promise of spring blooming just a few months away, I convince myself that this year that things will change. I will stick to my gym routine. I will finish my novel. I will learn a language, or at least nail ordering a beer on my next trip abroad. The 12 months ahead seem to stretch out seductively, brimming with the promise of a better me.
And yet, New Year’s resolutions have a habit of failing to stick. Before the crisp edges of winter begin to melt away, most of us have ditched the healthy eating plan, lit up cigarettes we had sworn off, or deleted Duolingo. In fact, 80 percent of us fail to make it to the second week of February before returning to old habits, according to U.S. News & World Report. Some, like me, fare even worse. I may have started the year determined to drink more water, but I didn’t even make it to the end of January before I lost the fancy reusable bottle that I’d purchased, full of dehydrated good intentions and feeling guilt-tripped by the aftereffects of spending December downing prosecco. The year before, I swore off alcohol, only to slip up by enthusiastically accepting the offer of an Irish coffee by 2pm on Jan. 1. New Year’s resolutions have never been my strong point, and I’ve always been OK with that. There is, after all, always next year.
How did the year go by so quickly, and how can we possibly achieve everything we want to with so little time left to go?
But regardless of whether you make it past the two-month mark, it seems that by the time summer rolls around, our initial enthusiasm has faltered into almost universal malaise. Experts have blamed the disheartening memory of our of the misplaced optimism for the fact that people are reporting endemic levels of burnout by summer. As the sticky heat of August invades, panic sets in. How did the year go by so quickly, and how can we possibly achieve everything we want to with so little time left to go?
But what is it about the promise of a new year that seduces us into making heady commitments to ourselves anyway? Perhaps it is simply that the Christmas festivities are an anchor in a year that always seems to go by too quickly. It is a time of tangible and tether-able memories. A date where it is easy to look back, to remember this time last year, and then to instinctively wonder what you’ll have to look back on the next time that the season rolls around. It’s a time of texting exes and getting tearful over Christmases past. A time to promise yourself that this year will be different.
Now that summer is here, work on my novel limps on at an unpredictable pace, my hopes of finishing it by the time December rolls around wearing thin, and I’ve yet to replace the water bottle that surely would have made all the difference to my grand plan to glug down two liters a day. Already, the promise of January 2020 looms ahead like a distant and glittering mirage, and I imagine myself newly recharged from the next Christmas vacation and ready to start all over again.
Yet real change is unpredictable — goals don’t have an expiration date. And, frankly, I probably don’t need a flash water bottle that reminds me when to drink to make me fulfill my most basic human need. An ordinary one will do.
So this August I’ve resolved to revisit the resolutions that I made eight months ago. History suggests that spending the rest of the year reminding myself of my own failures will only set me up to fall down again when the promise of next January predictably wears thin. Instead, I’m confronting my summer burnout and the notion that we need to wait for winter to reset. I’m making summer re-resolutions.
Goals don’t have an expiration date.
Failing to fulfill New Year’s resolutions is ultimately nothing to beat yourself up about. It’s easy to be seduced by the promise of an entire new year spanning out ahead of you, only to find that life gets in the way just as much as it did last year, and the year before that. But perhaps our focus on an arbitrary date is part of the problem. Perhaps we should see goals as what they truly are — long-term processes set by fallible beings who will experience a thousand tiny successes and failures on the way.
By the time that I’m next bloated by an inevitable December of overindulgence, some of my resolutions will surely have fallen by the wayside yet again. But I’ll know that I’ve tried, and that I can keep on trying. I don’t need to wait until January to reset. Working on myself is an all-year job. Summer is as good a time to start as any.
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