In general, I don’t advocate New Year’s resolutions. I think most resolutions worth making are worth making any time of year, not just at the beginning. Moreover, your ability to make and keep a resolution is a function of your will power, preferences, and circumstances. If none of those have changed just because of the calendar date, then resolutions that failed in the last year will likely fail in the next.
I do, however, admit three exceptions:
1. New Year’s Reaffirmations. If there’s a resolution that you’ve already succeeded in keeping in the past, the New Year can be a good time to reaffirm your commitment. This is especially true when the holiday season has interrupted an otherwise reliable habit. For instance, this year I’m reaffirming my commitment to exercising three times a week. I’m not resolving to up it to four, because I’ve tried and failed to do that in the past. But I know three is doable, despite my having lapsed a bit during the last couple of weeks.
2. New Year’s One-Shots. There are some things that you need to do, but they can be done any time, so there’s never a time when you must do them right now. Examples include “take my old clothes to goodwill” and “organize my files.” Since these resolutions are worth making any time of year, my earlier objection might seem to apply. But the difference is that one-shots don’t require any ongoing effort. Given that these tasks can be done any time, the New Year provides a nice Schelling point to make sure they do get done instead of always falling to the bottom of the priority list.
3. New Year’s Coordinations. Some resolutions require multiple people to affirm them simultaneously. Without an agreed-upon time for committing, they might never get made because no one can make the commitment unilaterally. An example of is my Wednesday-night-drinking-group’s recent decision to find a new bar/restaurant to visit every other week, instead of constantly revisiting the same old haunts. Given that we would all prefer to visit more places, the New Year provides a useful Schelling point for agreeing to do so.