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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

ZHAO: New Year’s resolutions are a sham

Here’s what you can do instead.
Stanley Zhao
2021 is just around the corner. With the arrival of a new year comes its responsibilities and aspirations. (Hustler staff/Stanley Zhao)

Ever since my freshman year of high school, I’ve noticed that this time of year has always plagued me with a particular twinge of guilt and shame. I was unable to quite gauge the reason behind this guilt until a few years ago when I unearthed a curious object: a list of resolutions I made in the fourth grade neatly glued to a sheet of construction paper and trimmed with decorative ribbon. At that moment, I realized that the root of my shame is my inability to sustain a New Year’s resolution for very long.

This December poses no exception to that same feeling that consumes me. Recently, I was lounging lazily around the house catching up on the latest details of season four of “Attack on Titanwhen a sudden realization dawned on me. 

It is mid-December, and I have accomplished absolutely zilch for this year.

Well, zilch may be a bit of a stretch because I did manage to go to college—which was a resolution on my list. However, I did fail to keep most of my New Year’s resolutions. I can recall several of my resolutions: to read a new book every month, to eat breakfast on a consistent basis and to learn a new vocabulary word every day. Despite my staunch conviction to follow through with them, I instead relegated these goals into the toilet bowl and flushed them deep into the murky depths. Moreover, I forgot I even made those resolutions for myself. But I’m not alone. Almost 50 percent of American adults say they make a list of New Year’s resolutions, but as few as eight percent actually follow through with their resolutions completely. I wanted that statistic to make me feel better about myself, but honestly, I don’t. 

The art of devising resolutions is not a modern construct. It is an age-old practice that dates back to the ancient Babylonians in the form of a 12-day festival. During that festival, the Babylonians reconfirmed the sovereignty of their monarch as well as made a promise to the gods to repay their debts. This tradition eventually wriggled itself into the folds of the Roman Empire, after Julius Caesar standardized the calendar by denoting “January 1st” as New Year’s Day. The month of January was named in honor of the Roman god Janus, the impersonation of doors, gateways and beginnings. Because of Janus’ significance as the intermediary between past and future, our Roman ancestors made sacrifices on New Year’s Day in the name of Janus as well as bold convictions for good conduct for the upcoming year. 

While we don’t usually see folks setting cows or lambs in a fiery blaze on New Year’s Day anymore, we still have one thing in common with the Roman Empire: we dream outlandishly. The Romans weren’t exactly documented in the annals of civilization as acting on “good conduct.” Invading people’s homelands and desecrating the holy sites of constituents do not exactly help you accumulate brownie points that will land you on Santa’s nice list. The issue here is that both the Roman’s—and our own—resolutions are much too broad to be feasible. 

Most of us share some very similar broad resolutions like “I want to eat healthier” or “I need to exercise more.” While those are well-intended resolutions, the broadness of these goals makes us desensitized to the meticulousness these goals require for them to be fulfilled. In other words, New Year’s resolutions have become a sham because we unknowingly designate our resolutions as “placeholders” for more effective, concrete plans of action; it’s “all talk and no action.” We engage in the process of composing a list of resolutions for the mere assurance that we are being proactive.

We’ve also become accustomed to believing that resolutions are the conclusive final steps in propelling our goals into reality. In that illusion, we neglect the process of brainstorming the necessary steps that need to be taken. I think part of the reason why we see this illusion is because the mentality of “you need to set goals” is the prevailing mantra rather than “you need to set achievable goals and make a plan of action to make it happen this year.” 

To mediate this, we must vigilantly practice setting S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. Rather than electing to eat healthily, maybe specify that you hope to eat healthily by maintaining the recommended daily allowance of vegetables or grabbing a few apple slices as snacks in lieu of Pringles barbecue chips. Divide your resolutions into snack-size tidbits that are manageable and processable. 

DePaul University psychology professor Joseph Ferrari offers another rationale behind why New Year’s resolutions are usually a bust: resolutions are typically kept private. Ferrari says, “When you keep resolutions a secret, no one is going to check up on you. You’re only accountable to yourself.” The professor’s observation certainly makes sense. 

Maybe we can heed his advice as well; instead of writing down your New Year’s resolutions on a piece of scratch paper intended for your own eyes, post them on your Instagram Story or your Snapchat Story to show the world. Happy goal-setting!

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About the Contributor
Stanley Zhao
Stanley Zhao, Former Opinion Copy Editor
Stanley Zhao ('24) is from New York City. He is studying public policy, economics and Chinese in the College of Arts and Science. In his spare time, he loves admiring works of architecture, snacking on prawn chips, cheering for the NY Knicks and appreciating Beyonce & 2Pac in all their glory. He also doesn't like the boba in bubble tea all that much. You can reach him at .
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