Are New Year’s res­o­lu­tions really effective? Haley Strack and Aidan Cyrus debate. | Pixabay

Over­rated: Goals shouldn’t require the turn of a cal­endar

Notice any­thing lately? The gym is over-pop­u­lated, the dining hall’s salad line is espe­cially long, and iPhone screen time is sus­pi­ciously low. It can only mean one thing: It’s a new year. 

Fear not — in a month or so, things will go back to normal; there will be a shortage of fries at the Sizzle station and all those Instagram users who said they “needed a break” will make their tri­umphant returns. Why, then, do we make grandiose ges­tures of self-improvement in the first month of every new year? 

Chances are, if you need a new year to improve yourself, you’re not that willing to improve yourself anyway. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn’t matter if your goal is to eat better, to spend less money, or to be a better person: that goal won’t be suc­cessful if it requires a flip of the cal­endar.

Setting goals is easy. Accom­plishing them is more dif­ficult and rare. 

It takes tenacity to stick to a goal for 12 months, but there’s no evi­dence that res­o­lu­tions prove effective long-term or that the new year brings increased pro­duc­tivity. 

Pre-indus­trial rev­o­lution factory workers held rel­a­tively con­stant rates of pro­duction. Despite New Year’s goals, the assembly line func­tioned at the same hourly rate in January as it did in December — and no matter the time, day, or month, that line kept rolling. We should approach life like this: a steady stream of pro­duc­tivity, in spite of obstacles or set­backs.

Of course, there are peaks of pro­duc­tivity in any occu­pation or life. But those peaks aren’t in January, when you’d expect fired-up go-getters of the New Year to strike. After ana­lyzing data from 1.8 million projects and 28 million tasks, researchers at the data content firm Priceo­nomics found that the most pro­ductive time of year is actually at 11 a.m. on a Monday in October. 

So this year, just save yourself the trouble of virtue-sig­naling your goals for the new year. You don’t need a reason or landmark to aspire to some­thing — just do it.

Life is a series of pro­gres­sions. If you need a concept like the “New Year’s res­o­lution” for that statement to ring true, live better. Year-round. 

Haley Strack is a sophomore studying politcal economy.


Under­rated: Res­o­lu­tions habituate virtue within the bounds of time

New Year’s res­o­lu­tions are over­rated only for the weak-willed modern man. 

Many find New Year’s res­o­lu­tions to be kitschy, filled with images of packed gyms on Jan. 2, an increase in Nutrisystem sub­scrip­tions, and a jump in Nicorette gum sales. Yet New Year’s res­o­lu­tions hold the remarkable potential of habit­u­ating virtue within the bounds of human nature. 

As evi­denced by hol­idays, feast days, and days of fasting, people par­tic­ipate within the bounds of time, a social con­struct, according to their nature and for their own benefit.

This is also noticeable in the beginning and ending of seasons, such as the New Year. People look back over the past year — and the ups and downs that it has brought — and look forward to the next passage of life. A New Year’s res­o­lution acts as a refresh button, a time to recenter oneself. 

Res­o­lu­tions are inef­fective for the person who gives up on them, forgets about them, or creates overly general goals, like “I’m going to go to the gym,” or “I’m going to eat healthy.” A con­structive res­o­lution involves a reachable, precise goal, that also leads to a greater virtue and good. For example, “I am going to call home at least twice a week,” not only is an achievable goal, but also develops the virtue of self­lessness, as well as time man­agement. Or turning “I am going to learn to paint,” into “I am going to paint, and give that painting to a friend,” not only involves a spe­cific achievable goal, but also involves the practice of gen­erosity. 

Many people mis­un­der­stand human nature by assuming that most people can imme­di­ately com­plete their res­o­lu­tions. Then, upon failing, they shame them­selves and give up. The weak New Year’s resolver leaves his res­o­lu­tions imme­di­ately after failing once, assuming that the game is over, the mission is lost. The strong New Year’s resolver acknowl­edges the pos­si­bility of failure, but resolves to con­tinue to try. In his failings, he learns about himself, and in trying again, he begins to create habits and ulti­mately, virtue.

Finally, New Year’s res­o­lu­tions act as a means for people to remember their mor­tality, their death, and for Chris­tians, their hope. Upon noticing that they con­stantly fail in their goals, rightly ordered New Year’s resolvers are reminded of their mor­tality. They are humbled, which acts as another kind of recen­tering. And while failures remind us of our inability, for Chris­tians they also remind us of grace. New Year’s res­o­lu­tions can act as a small sote­ri­o­logical reminder, par­tic­u­larly given the New Year’s place in the octave of Christmas. 

In con­clusion, New Year’s res­o­lu­tions are under­rated in this modern society which values comfort over respon­si­bility. Good New Year’s res­o­lu­tions involve respon­si­bility and push the person to virtue, but only for those who under­stand their own nature and position in the created order.

Aidan Cyrus is a junior studying phi­losophy.