29 December 2017

As the year is almost over, more and more people start reflecting on everything that happened through the year, and start making plans for the new year.

But the last day of the calendar year is just an arbitrary day. There is nothing special about it. It’s all in our heads. We assign that day importance, but it’s arbitrary. The earth rotates around the sun, and there is nothing special about its position on this date. It just happens to be somewhere within the winter season in Europe. The Chinese New Year is in mid February. What gives.

The calendar is a convenience. It makes it possible to refer to a point in time in a clear, unambiguous way.

But nature doesn’t give a fuck about new years eve. Animals are minding their own hunting and hiding. Rains, storms and earthquakes don’t check the calendar to see if it is a good day to wreak havoc. Our bodies’ growth, health and aging don’t change in discrete steps, once per year. They keep coming at us all the time!

So, what’s the point of end of year summaries and new year resolutions? It’s as if at the end of the year someone comes and shakes us “Wake up, wake up!”. “Huh. What’s happening. What happened”… “Ah, OK, this year I learned how to cook pot roast, next year I should loose my belly fat.” By end of January, its sweet dreams again. We’ve forgotten all about new years resolutions. We keep dreaming, and December comes, and we are again surprised, and not ready for it. We didn’t lose the belly fat.

It’s because new years resolutions are bullshit. They are lousy and lazy. If you want to make something happen, you make a resolution. Not a new years resolution, but emotional fortitude and commitment. Not just setting the label on the 365 days as “belly-fat-be-gone”, but actually deciding to go for it, as long as it takes, until you accomplish it, or consciously resolve not to do it.

And, in my opinion, that emotional attachment makes the difference. Not everything needs a whole year. It might take three months, or two years. It might take ten years or even a lifetime.

The end of the calendar year is really dumb exit strategy for a goal.

Instead, emotional attachment to our resolution is an effective exit strategy. That is, we are emotionally committed to our resolution, which means that we don’t abandon it, unless another, stronger emotion comes against it, or we achieve it, or we re-assess our emotion and decide it is not that strong.

Emotions work because they’re more real, than the calendar year’s beginning and end. Our emotions affect our hormones, and biochemistry, and even if it is placebo, placebo sometimes works.

My current resolutions are to write a lot and to figure out a long term career path. Deciding on vocation whether it’s a software engineer, or running my own business, or something else. These resolutions are not new years resolutions. They took a long time of deliberation and thinking to arrive at. It took a bunch of effort to commit to them. My emotional resolve built up over that time, and are what drives me to make sustainable progress towards these goals.

These goals are active. I have to do something to achieve them. They are not avoidance goals. An avoidance goal is “Stop drinking” or “Stop smoking” or “Don’t be distracted by the Internet”. Those are lousy goals. They are just as much bullshit as the new years resolution. The underlying objectives are good and commendable, and something to strive towards, but the way of measuring success is lousy. They can never be achieved in the abstract.

I’ve had a little bit of a success with the drinking aspect so let me elaborate. If your goal is the absolute “Never drink again” then that’s destined to fail. It is just easy to slip up sometimes and forget about the resolution not to drink, and out of habit have a sip whiskey sour at a birthday party, until you realize “Oh shit!”.

In that case, it’s an immediate failure. The statement “Never drink again” is false. You can reset the timer on it, but that’s a slippery slope. Every time it happens, it chips away from the emotional resolve. It’s almost impossible to muster so much emotional resolve to last forever. But I think it is possible to muster enough resolve to last for some period of time.

I think a better resolution in this case is to set a period such as thirty or ninety days and resolve to accomplish one or multiple such “dry” periods. With no end date for completing them. If you’re not done by the end of the year, why, keep going. You’ve presumably made some progress, so you haven’t failed. Personally, I’ve done a 30 day no drinking every year for ten years in a row and over time it really decreased my overall alcohol consumption to a point where I rarely drink.

I have a much more healthy relationship with alcohol now. I don’t think I’ll ever fully eliminate it from my life, but I have very little thirst for it now.

My first such period happened when I was hungover. It started in May, and not as a new year resolution. I was disgusted with myself for drinking too much the night before, and decided to avoid drinking for month and a half, until my birthday. I only made it twenty six days then, but I still regarded it as a success. My personal record. If I had the lousy goal of never drinking, I would’ve relapsed much sooner and the goal would have felt much more like a failure. My emotion would’ve been :(, instead of the :) that I got from accomplishing twenty six days without drinking!

Taking a defensive goal of “never drink again” and turning it into the offensive “accomplish 30 days of no drinking” made the difference emotion-wise. It embedded the exit strategy within the goal. I had enough emotional fortitude for achieving that goal, at creation time. I didn’t, and still don’t have enough emotional fortitude to give up alcohol completely.

Goals and resolutions without exit strategy are lousy goals.

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I write these posts to clarify my thoughts and improve my communication. They are mainly written for myself, and my future self, but I'd love to hear any comments you might have, especially if you disagree with what I've written, or if you've found it valuable in any way. Message me on Twitter @themitak or email me at comments@dimitarsimeonov.com.