How to succeed by breaking your resolutions: A loser’s guide to 2018

A different frame (Reuters/Sergio Moraes)
A different frame (Reuters/Sergio Moraes)
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For years, I have written New Year’s resolutions and betrayed them. If you define keeping resolutions as winning and breaking resolutions as losing, I’m a whole loser.

Making resolutions for the sole purpose of accomplishing them is too difficult and also bad for my morale. Years of trying and failing has taught me that nowadays winners are scarce and losers are everywhere. So instead of feeling badly about what I haven’t achieved, I’ve developed a healthy attitude toward resolutions: they are not to keep, but to break.

I once set out a new year determined to get rid of my addiction to binge-reading online serial novels, as I lost too many precious sleeping hours staying up late reading. For that year, my resistance worked really well. I didn’t read a single novel from 8pm to 5am on any weekday. However, I didn’t gain much sleep–my addiction to novel reading switched to watching Japanese TV dramas! Every time I felt the need to relax my brain, instead of defaulting to novels, I searched for new shows. The following year I went back to novel reading. Meanwhile, in that one year so many good works and familiar themes had piled up, that there was so much I wanted to read. Taking a break from serial novels gave me enough distance to be confident that it was actually something that made me content.

Oh, I also wanted to read more books! My annual book list shrank drastically after college. Intrigued by the challenge people were taking up to read 52 books a year, I set myself the same goal. I ended the year with 39 books and decided not to do it again. Finding time to finish a book a week is tiring. It made me prioritize reading over other work/ life projects and the act of reading itself didn’t serve a coherent purpose: I read fiction, non-fiction, technical books and comics. Most of them were satisfying, but the burden of finishing a book outweighed the actual joy of reading. Committing to doing it, though, was still awakening. Some resolutions sound impressive and inspiring, but you don’t know whether they are the right fit for you until you go through the whole experience of trying and failing.

The same can be said for exercising. One year on January 1st I walked to the gym in chilling winter sun. I had signed myself up for a half-marathon in May and needed to start training. (The last time I had run more than half-a-mile was roughly 10 years prior, in high school.) I managed to run three times a week every week through mid April and completed the marathon under two-and-a-half hours. For the rest of the year, I didn’t run once. While I did enjoy the thrill of finishing 13.1 miles of a marathon, I knew deep in my mind that running didn’t bring me joy. It had been painful, from the beginning to the end.

It’s only by breaking resolutions that I learned what worked for me, what would be worth committing to long-term, and how far I could stray from what I normally do. I began to see every New Year’s resolution as an opportunity to know myself better.

I just made my list of resolutions for 2018, knowing that by no means will I be able to accomplish every item on the list. It’s not about outcomes. By trying and failing I’m getting closer to shaping the habits and routines that define who I am now, and in the future.