Story by Laurel McLean.
It’s midnight on December 31 and you’re overcome with the sudden urge to promise to reinvent yourself while standing outside a disappointing party with four people drunkenly swearing that this year is the year they’ll quit smoking for the sixth or seventh time as they flick their cigarette butts into the snow.
You find yourself vowing to stop binge-watching Netflix shows late into the night when you have to wake up at 6 a.m. for a job you hate or to try a spin class because it can’t really be that bad if everyone on Instagram is doing it.
But, despite good intentions, you’re doomed to be the same person making the same mistakes you made last year.
According to a 2015 study done by U.S. News, 80 per cent of New Year’s resolutions will fail by the second week of February.
And it makes sense.
If you were the type of person who was able to read more books or lose weight or learn Mandarin, you would be the type of person who was already doing it without requiring the crutch of a new calendar year to implement the change.
As a society, we tend to be overly confident in our human endeavours and unfailingly optimistic in our ability to eradicate our vices. We believe that we can change more easily and more quickly than actually possible and that the changes we desire are more attainable than they often are.
Despite the motivational quotes about life being about the journey and not the destination, New Year’s resolutions are, in fact, about accomplishing an end goal and, because of this, people usually run into problems while attempting to fulfil their resolutions.
In the moment that you make a resolution, you feel positively about it. And so, because of a psychological phenomenon called affective forecasting, you assume that you are going to feel good about your resolution in the future.
However, when you actually go to do the action required to complete your resolution, you will probably be shocked to discover that you don’t actually enjoy abandoning the comforting familiarity of your warm bed to brave a Spanish lesson or 5 a.m. yoga class.
And that’s the funny thing about human behaviour. Even upon recognizing that what we are doing is unhealthy and perhaps even after developing a burning self-hatred for ourselves because of it, we would still rather continue doing what we’re doing than put in the effort to change.
Human behaviour is driven by the pleasure principle, which compels us to gratify our needs, wants, and urges. And, while attempting to satisfy these, most of us are only able to focus on short-term, instant gratification. We are hard-wired to want things and to want them now.
This is why treating yourself to a cute new pair of shoes you don’t need and temporarily forgetting about your growing credit card debt will always feel infinitely better than putting your paycheque into your savings account like you promised yourself you would.
Resolutions are all too often based on goals we failed to achieve in the preceding year and, for some reason, a new year provides a false sense of hope that we will somehow now be able to accomplish what we were unable to before.
But various studies show that regardless of our best efforts, 92 per cent of us won’t succeed. The only proof that you attempted to change your eating habits will be the greasy, orange fingerprints from the bag of Doritos you devoured while flipping through the pages of your fair-trade, organic, gluten-free, vegan cookbook and the feeling of regret in your not-any-slimmer stomach.
Maybe there is something to be said about good intentions and optimism. Being able to conceptualize and visualize yourself somehow being different than you are now—even if you fail to implement these changes—is better than resigning yourself to the fact that who you are now, vices and all, might be the only person you’re ever capable of being.
But to those of you that will succeed with your 2017 New Year’s resolutions (because eight per cent of you will): congratulations. You are part of the minority whose self-hatred for doing whatever you were doing overwhelmed your natural—and understandable—disinterest in wanting to change.
The rest of us will find ourselves on December 31, 365 days later, in the exact same place we started, surrounded by a pile of workout clothes we never wore.