The Roman god Janus, for whom the month of January is named, had two faces. One looking towards the past, and the other towards the future. Each new year the typical god fearing Roman would make a selection of promises to Janus. Promises to do his duty, to be honest, to do better work, to make a better sacrifice, to be a better person. Thousands of years have passed since this Roman tradition started and Europeans across the world to this day carry on the tradition of making special promises to themselves to do better in the new year. Surprisingly this tradition is not going away, but actually getting stronger. A century ago only one in four people made resolutions each year, but today half the population of Western countries make new year’s resolutions. I take this as a hopeful sign that we are living in an age of a new awakening in terms of self-awareness and self-responsibility.
A resolution is an act of rebellion against mediocrity within oneself. It shouldn’t be about recognising that one isn’t perfect, of course one isn’t, but instead about recognising that one can do better. I am a poor cook for instance, off the top of my head I know about ten recipes that I can make with confidence. I do find myself making the same things over and over again and I would like to learn how to make more interesting dishes. So one of my new year’s resolutions this year is to learn one new recipe each month. That’s merely a total of 12 new recipes for the year. It’s not particularly hard resolution on the face of it, but it would improve the quality of my life in many ways. Firstly, it would more than double the number of dishes I currently feel confident making. This would bring more variety into my meals, pleasing me, and increasing my quality of life, but it would also increase my value to other people as an entertainer or guest to a pot luck dinner party. Having new recipes I can make for my friends means that I can give more to them and enjoy the giving experience as well as the increased respect that comes from my increased value as a friend.
A resolution is also a goal, and people who have articulated goals are far more likely to reach them. One website I read about this said that a person with resolutions was ten times more likely to achieve them, but I don’t understand logically how this would work because if a person didn’t have resolutions… how would they know if they completed them? How can these groups be compared? So I’m skeptical of this claim’s authenticity, but at the same time it seems like common sense that having clear articulated goals allows one to plan and focus one’s attention on reaching those goals. For example, the most common New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight. Well if Amanda says, “my goal this year is to lose weight” while Bob says “my goal this year is to lose 24kg of weight at a rate of 2kg per month through a combination of more exercise and a healthier diet” then Bob’s probably going to be more successful than Amanda. Bob knows where he needs to make the changes to his life, and he knows how much he wants to lose and how to track his monthly progress. The better a goal is articulated the easier it is to accomplish.
A resolution is also a promise to oneself. I promise to take better care of oneself and to honour and respect oneself. Another one of my resolutions this year is to finish writing and to publish a book. I’ve been writing almost all my life, it’s been a life long passion of mine. Last year I wrote over 600,000 words alone for various writing projects, but I still haven’t completed a book for myself. This is something that’s important to me, and I’ve never given to myself. My resolution in this regard is a promise to do something meaningful for myself this year. Another resolution is to do more regular and better exercise to maintain my health. Again, this is about promising to take my own health seriously and doing something to preserve the excellent health I currently have into the future.
A resolution is also a vision. Resolutions are about looking into the future with courage and seeing a brighter future. A vision does requite courage because so many things can go wrong: floods, fires, wars, depressions, injuries, etc… so many things that would prevent your plans from coming true. So having a goal is a daunting thing because there will be problems, there will be uncomfortable experiences, and often life can seem so messed up that having hope just means you have one more thing to lose. So it requires courage to have a vision, and it requires commitment to work through those hardships to reach that vision. One of my visions for this year is a save a lot of money, its going to be hard because I will need to cut back on things I enjoy, and work long hours and jobs that I don’t want to work. However, I have a vision of myself in the future being much happier having money then at the expense of myself having fun now. Every day I remind myself about the fable of the grasshopper and the ant. As the risk of sounding self-diminuating, I’m an ant man all the way through.
As a philosophical therapist, the core of my practice is helping people to improve themselves. Self-improvement typically involves self-knowledge and changing one’s habits. Therapy is all about the self-knowledge part and that’s what I help to facilitate; but making life changing resolutions is the part my clients have to do alone. This is the reason why I like new year’s resolutions so much. It is the next step after self-knowledge, it is doing the things I realise are important to me because I know myself better now. This is the most exciting part of each new year for me, making my plans for my self-improvement and working towards being a better version of myself. I would encourage all my readers and clients to write down some resolutions for themselves, to articulate them in as much detail as possible how they will go about achieving them, and maybe you will need to do some research for this. A man with a plan is going to go a lot further than a man who waits passively for life to happen to him.