Ask Roundtable: New Year’s Resolutions

Esther Williams with New Year’s resolutions at MGM, 1944. Photo Courtesy: Everett Collection

As another pandemic January comes to a close, it seems like a good time to check in on our New Year’s resolutions. Are we carrying our new habits into February and beyond with fresh resolve? Tumbling in sad slow motion off our intended wagons? Questioning the very nature and purpose of “resolutions”? 

The Ask writers and editors got together via another virtual roundtable to talk about these well-intentioned attempts at behavior change. Here are some highlights from our Zoom chat.

So… Did We Even Make Any Resolutions This Year?

With time passing strangely in the pandemic and the future feeling all too uncertain, it stands to reason that lots of folks may be skipping the resolutions this year. Managing Editor Hannah Riley is in that camp. “Maybe my resolution is to make resolutions before it turns into June,” she says. “I’m kind of still interested in doing it. But the global vibe right now is not very conducive to resolutions for me.”

That global vibe is affecting quite a few of us here at Ask. I’ve personally been thinking that 2022 may be the year of the anti-resolution. I had a grand plan to start working out in the mornings. And then when January 1 rolled around, I promptly committed to sleeping in until 8:30 a.m. and moving as little as possible. And it felt great! The total acceptance of sloth felt like an appropriate mental health choice at this moment in time.

Senior Editor Hanna Shea chimed in with a radical thought. “I sometimes wonder if January is even the right time to make resolutions, given that it’s the darkest time of the year, when you just feel like hibernating and eating soup.” 

From there, our talk turned to the ways in which New Year’s resolutions seem doomed to fail. We all make these promises every year with the tacit assumption that they’re gonna peter out in a couple of weeks. So is there a better way to do it? Would changing up the timing make a difference?

Forget New Year’s — Bring on the Autumnal/Birthday/Equinox Resolutions

Social Media Editor Bryn Rich thinks the January timing is warping our choice of behavior changes. “It makes so much sense that people focus on diet, exercise or not drinking right after the holidays,” he says, “when they probably didn’t go to the gym and drank and ate more than usual. So if people made resolutions at a different time of year, they’d probably be pretty different resolutions.”

So what would be a better time? “Personally,” says Hanna, “I always feel more inspired to do some sort of resolution when the fall rolls around. And I think that’s because of the childhood connection to the new school year.”

For Senior Writer Patricia Puentes, spring sounds like a better bet. “I think the best moment is daylight savings time,” she says. “I’m not a morning person and I can’t exercise in the morning. So it will be much easier once there’s more light in the afternoon. Right now I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s dark, let’s have dinner at 6 p.m.!’”

Writer Eric Mueller agrees. “I love the idea of daylight savings time. I’ve also seen people make resolutions on Lunar New Year, Rosh Hashanah or the summer solstice. Autumnal and vernal equinoxes would fall on good dates too.”

Not all the suggestions hinge on a certain time of year. Hannah thinks the best time for resolutions is more personal. “When I think about the only times I’ve successfully completed a resolution,” she says, “it’s always been on my birthday. I don’t know if it’s just more personal, but I quit drinking on my birthday one year, another year I quit smoking, and for some reason those things stuck.”

Editor Caleb Bailey had a similar experience. “Hannah’s on to something here. Some of my better habits started on my birthday,” he says. “When I turned 18, I said, ‘Okay, I’m gonna start working out now.’ And before I had dabbled, but I committed on my 18th birthday, and it stuck.”

Bryn agrees with the personal approach. “I like the birthday thing,” he says. “That makes it feel more personal and not just something you’re doing because everyone else is doing it.”

The Resolutions We Actually Made

Patricia’s Resolution: Read 22 Books and Get Back to a Pre-Pandemic Workout Routine

“I have a set number of books that I want to read, which is basically the same one as last year. Twenty-two books. So no big challenge there! And I do want to go back to working out five days a week, which is what I was doing before the pandemic. I had a routine and I would respect it every day, almost. I would do it no problem, go to a yoga class or run after work every day. The pandemic has made things very difficult, but I’m trying to get back to those five days a week.”

Eric’s Resolution: Get Really Good at Gift Wrapping

“When I was wrapping gifts this year, I realized that I’m really bad at wrapping presents,” Eric says. “So this is something small and tangible I can work on. Just wrap more gifts this year and give them. It’s like a practice in gratitude, but also I don’t want my gifts to look like a child wrapped them. I wanted to pick something that wasn’t a huge change. I’m aiming small and hoping for big results.”

Caleb’s Resolution: Skip the Negativity

“Last year was definitely just insanely stressful,” says Caleb. “And even back in 2020, I noticed that I was indulging in negative self-talk a lot more. I think a lot of us can relate to that — for some reason, the whole COVID situation makes you just be down on yourself more. And so my resolution this year is to be more accountable with that and to stop indulging in that so much. And even though it’s hard, that’s a resolution I want to stick to because it’s really important.”

Hanna’s Resolution: Do One Pull-Up

“My resolution is to get strong enough to do one pull-up,” says Hanna. “Whenever I’m watching an action movie and I see someone pull themselves up off a cliff face or something, I’m always like, ‘Oh my god, I couldn’t do that if I needed to.’ I physically couldn’t. So that’s what I’m shooting for. If after 2022 I end up in some sort of disaster scenario, I will be able to pull myself up off of a ledge.”

Bryn’s Resolution: Get Boring Appointments Out of the Way

“Planning in general is different these days,” says Bryn. “A lot of common resolutions are gym stuff — but what if the gym goes away again? So rather than trying to set something up for an extended period of time, I’m starting the year by doing my dental cleaning, my annual checkup — all of those little things you’re supposed to do, but that you can so easily let slide. It feels good and productive, and it doesn’t hinge too much on what’s going on in the rest of the world.”

Takeaways: Try Accountability, Moderation and a Little Public Shaming

The team is learning a lot from each other’s resolutions. “You’ve inspired me, Bryn,” says Patricia. “I’m gonna go call the dentist.” Hannah agrees. “That’s a great accountability hack,” she says. “Turn it into an appointment, and then it gets done!”

Moderation and small, achievable changes are also on our minds. Caleb stresses the importance of making resolutions that are realistic for you. “I think a lot of people will want to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to start dieting.’ And then they completely cut carbs or go keto and drive themselves crazy. And it’s like, a healthy diet change can mean choosing moderation. Have your junk food, just have it maybe once a week.”

Hanna agrees. “It’s so hard to make big sweeping, systemic life changes in one day. That feels like a losing proposition. So maybe just keep it small and manageable. And make sure it’s something that you actually want to do, instead of something that you feel like you should be doing.”

Starting small can be the way to achieve bigger things. “I like doing little incremental changes each day or each week,” says Hannah. “I used to go to bed at three or four in the morning. And then I would try to start going to bed at 10 o’clock, and it never worked. But when I tried going to bed just 10 minutes earlier each week, that stuck. And finally now I can go to bed at midnight and be okay.”

And what if you want to go for a big, cold turkey kind of endeavor? Well, I share with the group that I did Dry January last year and lasted for six months. And I think the reason it stuck is that I told everyone I knew that I was doing it. So when I started to slip, I would say “No, I’ve told everyone that I’m doing this,” and then that sense of guilt would keep me on track.

“So it sounds like the secret to a successful resolution is public shaming,” Caleb says.  

There you have it, folks: Guilt and shame, the secrets to a successful resolution — brought to you by Ask Media editors.