Yes. It’s that time of year again.
The time where we grab a paper, hold a pen and list the things that we will work on changing throughout the year.
What we think will alleviate our depression and hopelessness turns out to be an enemy in disguise that lets us hit rock bottom.
A recent study has shown that around 90 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail.
But do we really need studies to prove to us this failure? We can look at our own resolutions list and be reminded of the absurdity of this endeavor.
How a New Year’s resolution affects us, why it doesn’t work and how to get out of this loop, is what I’m about to tackle in this article.
I start with the utmost negative effects of what this secular tradition has on us.
1. Believing in permanence.
Dzongar Khyentse, one of my favorite Buddhist monks, explains in one of his books how people of the world love to be caught up in fabricating reality with hopes of achieving “ever-lasting” happiness.
He says: “In our everyday lives we have this impulse to shield ourselves and others from the truth. We’ve become impervious to obvious signs of decay. We encourage ourselves by “not dwelling on it” and by employing positive affirmations. We celebrate the New Year with firecrackers and champagne, distracting ourselves from the fact that the old year will never come back and the New Year is filled with uncertainty; anything can happen.”
Making New Year’s resolutions is an unconscious attempt at keeping things permanent and alive. Just like Dzongar says, we always try to distract ourselves from the truth.
And the truth is that we will never know what this year or the one after has for us. We might make an endless list of endless resolutions and still be hit by a bus on January the 1st.
Believing in permanence is one big problem which we don’t recognize and celebrating New Year with hundreds of resolutions written down is plainly not the solution to our misery.
2. Getting attached to time.
There are two types of time: there is the “clock time,” which we mainly use for practical and useful matters and there is the “psychological time” which is basically dwelling mentally on a certain situation or emotion.
“Clock time” is a time which we need in order to live with the rest of the world. But “psychological time” is absolutely unnecessary and is destructive when used as a means to an end.
Listing New Year’s resolutions is practically working with psychological time. Indirectly, we become attached to our resolutions and waiting for the time when they shall be accomplished.
We mentally dwell on them to the point where we even forget to actually start with them “now.”
3. False hope.
By writing down New Year’s Resolutions, we are giving ourselves false hope to a large extent.
A dramatic event––such as losing a loved one––might occur, ruining all of our so-called resolutions. Not only will we perceive them as “ruined,” but also we will sink deeply in negativity as a consequence of having unreliable positive affirmations.
4. Unconscious postponing.
There, I said it!
On the conscious level we think that writing down resolutions is a way to follow up with them. But the truth is, on the unconscious level, we write them down as a means of postponing them: “If I don’t lose weight this year, I will next year! And if I don’t the year after, well… f*** it I have a lifetime; now let me enjoy this heavenly piece of cake!”
Believing that we have more time indirectly keeps our minds in a state of delay and New Year’s resolutions perfectly serve us this.
5. I start with an E, end with an O and I’m made of three letters. Who am I?
Ego. You might think that this has nothing to do with our ego and I hate to break this to you, but yes, it does.
Do we notice that we actually look at the list more often than we do apply it?
Our ego loves to feel that it’s in control with getting everything covered and this is what we are exactly providing it with. We sit on our four wheeled chair, hold that paper up in the air, read the resolutions (which all start with “I”; more ego feeding) and spin that chair with a confident look.
Not only we feed that ego by thinking we’ve got it all covered but also by telling the whole world about it––thank you Facebook and Twitter.
6. Obligation, hence depression.
When human beings feel obliged by something, they no longer keep up with it. Yes, this is our human nature.
Keeping a New Year’s resolution list will make us feel obliged with it. Thus, we feel pressured, unhappy and depressed.
Take for example your tasks at work. How do you feel when you look at this agenda of yours in the morning? The first emotion which you go through is obligation and pressure. Therefore, you start with the small tasks, leaving the big ones till the end; and the more postponing, the better.
Same with New Year’s resolution list: It’s our self-created agenda which no one binded us with.
7. Creating a false sense of self.
By creating a New Year’s resolution list, we are mainly creating a false self.
By “self” I mean the “I” with enormous problems: the “I” that is a smoker, the “I” that is fat, the “I” that is ugly or the “I” that wants more money.
We make out of small workable issues, gigantic flaws and turn them into a problem. What wasn’t a problem in the first place, now becomes a complication which we only have 12 months to resolve!
How do we get out of this loop and stop creating New Year’s resolution lists?
>>> Step out from the notion of “time”: the more we create time, the more we suffer. Consider life as one span without a past or a future or a New Year.
>>> Don’t put deadlines for what you wish to change: drawing deadlines can be destructive more than helpful. We will feel pressured, low on time and insufficient. Thus, when we give ourselves endless time to accomplish something, we will indirectly accomplish it faster.
>>> Start now: who told us that in order to enhance something we must wait for New Year? The media probably succeeded quite well in delivering that false message but we should be more aware than this.
>>> Don’t do any changes in January: We must break that chain! And by breaking that chain we shouldn’t accomplish more in January. Accomplish less at the beginning of the year and much more toward the end of it. This will highly help us to turn the tables.
>>> Don’t push yourself too hard: recognize what flaws you have in yourself or life and work on them smoothly without beating yourself up with it.
>>> Don’t go public: this is an advice that must be taken on the long-term and not only on New Year’s. Anything you wish to change about yourself, keep it to yourself. The world has nothing to do with our flaws or daily resolutions. Claiming it public only reinforces the idea of enhancing to show off or let friends know without really enhancing for our own benefit.
>>> Take baby steps: nothing is done within a flick of a switch. Some things require years and years to be done. Let’s take baby steps, go slow and not constrain ourselves to a 12 months calendar.
Stopping New Year’s resolution takes one single realization: It’s not the date that determines our success or improvement; it’s our willingness and faith.
Throw that paper of New Year’s resolution in the garbage and make your Now your constant New Year.
Have a Happy Now everyone!
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Kalyan Kanuri/Flickr