“How wonderful is it that nobody need wait a single moment before beginning to improve the world.”
As I settle into 2016, I’ve had time to reflect on something that has been on everyone’s minds – New Year’s resolutions. Towards the end of 2015, I, like previous years, sat down to a blank sheet of paper and a pen. What did I want to achieve in the coming year?
The first thing that popped into my mind was to read more classics. I felt like I was now mature enough to appreciate the literature whose language had once been too sophisticated for me. Plus, it had been a long time since I’d read for pleasure.
When I thought about re-entering whole new worlds with fresh characters and breathtakingly sculpted sentences, I felt my fingers tingle, and I immediately wrote down a list of books I wanted to finish in the coming year. Don Quixote sounded like a good place to start. I’d entertain myself with that next Friday.
Next Friday? I suddenly wondered why I was postponing something I could so easily start right now. Don had been on my iBooks app for months now. Opening the first page would be easier than texting my mother.
But I didn’t think much of it – I wanted to wait until 2016. New Year, New Book – it seemed so right. Plus, it was a New Year’s resolution, not a end of 2015 resolution.
And so I waited.
The first of January rolled around, and I spent it rather unproductively, lounging around at home. It wasn’t until the second did I remember Mr Quixote. I thought about starting, but decided against it. I had better things to do, and the idea of reading had suddenly become so unappealing.
A few days later, I finally opened the book. I read the first few pages, and decided that was enough for the day. I’ve yet to finish the first chapter.
In retrospect, I probably should have started reading when I first wrote those resolutions. Then, by now, maybe I’d be right in the meat of it, sacrificing an hour of sleep just to get through another few chapters. And so, I decided to scrap the few resolutions I had made earlier. From now on, I would set and achieve goals whenever I wanted.
I wasn’t going to wait, just so it’d be prettier on the calendar. After all, what matters more: the raw, uncut, progress I’ve made, or the whole ‘new year, new me’ nonsense?
Goal-setting is sparked by a desire for self-improvement, and fuelled with evidence of progress. There’s always that hint of spontaneity at the beginning that lets us feel invincible; when that epiphany jerks us out of the web of sleep we’ve all but sunk into, or temporarily lets us forget every battle we’re fighting. It’s the moment when we know we can really see this goal through – we can not only picture ourselves standing victorious at the finish line; we can feel the flimsy tape breaking against our indestructible bodies. It’s a rush that can’t be controlled. And it’s a pity that many of us attempt to command it to coincide with a pretty calendar date.
I wasn’t going to wait, just so it’d be prettier on the calendar.
I remember in primary and intermediate school, the teachers would ask us to set goals every school term. Every time that happened, I’d write down something generic, such as ‘speak up more in class’ (I’ve always been on the shy side), or ‘always finish homework a day before the due date’, hand it in to the teacher for approval, and then completely forget about it.
Maybe on a random Thursday afternoon sometime during the school term, I’d suddenly feel inspired to add my input in class discussions. And I would go ahead and raise my hand. It had nothing to do with the so-called goal I had set earlier.
When the time to reflect on our goals came, I’d always write something like ‘I made some progress, but there’s still room for improvement’ as a way of representing the mid-point between indolence and arrogance. Truthfully however, sometimes the goal would be completely achieved, and sometimes not at all. The correlation between the results and the goals set would have been as spurious as the number of times I sneezed per day and the chances of rain.
It’s a universal truth that New Year’s resolutions never really work, and this is why; it’s because we’re not really motivated enough to keep at it. We’re not doing it for ourselves; we’re doing it for the calendar. In the end, we care more about the date on the calendar than we do for the actual resolution.
If you don’t feel a true, intense desire to change, don’t set any goals at all. Setting goals or resolutions that you know you’re never really going to achieve or stick to is just another way to disappoint yourself. And why would anyone purposefully impart more negativity?
So the next time you think about setting a goal, ask yourself this – is it for you, or is it for a calendar? And if you do ever feel a sudden stroke of inspiration to begin something brilliant, go ahead and do it. Even if the time is four in the morning and you have an early start at six, let the exhilaration for greatness overpower trivial obstacles such as fatigue. The best kind of motivation is always interlinked with a hint of spontaneity. Why wait until school starts to begin studying? Why wait until next month to finally start that diet?
Self-improvement is an infinite journey that can be embarked upon anywhere, anytime. That’s the beauty of it. Goals should be set based on personal shortcomings, and not the numbers of a calendar.