On the Contrary: Keep your New Years Resolutions to Yourself
So we’re well into the second week of 2011. Are you still holding to your New Year resolutions?
On second thought, don’t tell me. I don’t really want to know. In fact, no one does.
I completely understand the impulse for resolutions. There’s always something we can do to improve ourselves, and the changing of the New Year is as good a time as any to try to make some improvements. Good for you in setting some goals and striving to reach them. But please, keep them to yourself.
There seems to be an impulse for a lot of people to crow about all of their new years resolutions, tweeting them, posting them on Facebook, or bringing them up unsolicited into conversations. (There’s also the obvious reverse tactic of asking everyone else for their resolutions as a ploy to talk about one’s own). This could be a tactic for enlisting the pressure of other people to force one to stick to it. That would be good, and everyone needs support, but somehow I doubt that is the real impulse behind the resolution lists I’ve been subjected to. I think for some people, just saying what they intend to do excuses them from actually doing it.
What does announcing your resolution actually do for other people? Assuming the person hearing it cares at all, there are two responses—expectant belief or secret wishes for failure. Presumably, you are telling them because you expect the former, but you’re probably more likely to get the latter. I used to hold back my annoyance with people’s proclamations of how they are going to change their lives because I knew it was coming from a place of envy. What if I don’t want to make a resolution that I have to stick to—do you have to rub in my face how much better or more disciplined you are? Fine, tell me how you’re going to lose 20 pounds, quit smoking, or learn another language. I’ll just wait, keeping track of your progress and secretly delighting in your failure to close on those promises. Ah, the joys of schadenfreude.
I’m actually over that now (though I’m sure many people are not). Maybe it’s because I’m at the point in my life that I have made resolutions and kept them for long enough to not be threatened or jealous of other people doing so. In fact, I actually root for others to succeed (most of the time). But I still think it’s a bad idea to advertise your resolutions. It’s like saying you’re going to marry that girl (or guy) after one date. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t, but there are some things you just shouldn’t say out loud.
As a kid singing in my church choir, I usually zoned out through much of the service. But one Biblical passage always stuck out to me—Matthew 6:1. Jesus is giving a sermon on some Mount, and he says something like, “Beware practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” This is of course referring to public displays of religiousness, but it translates to just about any kind of personal boasts or advertisements, and is good advice to non-believers as well. Proclaiming your resolution publicly, you’ve gotten the reward of the attention of others already. If you stick to it, you will have just done what is expected (which is boring and makes the goal less appealing). The only place to go is down.
Besides, it is ten times more satisfying to have other people notice the self-improvements you’ve made without you pointing them out. It makes them more real and gives you an accurate idea about how much you actually are changing.
Resolutions are a personal thing. Sometimes you need some support. You might need a sponsor for a diet, or someone to talk to about quitting smoking. That’s fine. Tell your close friends and confidants. But let your actions show your resolutions rather than your Facebook posts.