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To Resolve or Not to Resolve
December 21, 2021   |  Articles

January Resolutions: Valuable or Simply Vogue?

Although I may be alone in this, I tend to equate business cycle annual planning with New Year’s Resolutions.  Both often happen at the start of the year.  Neither list is likely to remain intact by June.

In fact, there is an ongoing debate around the value of New Year’s Resolutions and I have long been on the side of the naysayers. Watching teams and individuals set goals in mid-December and then ignore them for several weeks left me feeling jaded. What is so special about December 31st or January 1st? Why should we hold off on self-reflection the other 363 days of the year?

Basically, the entire concept of a New Year Resolution has long struck me as ridiculous. But in the past few years, I have come to see another side to the story. Sure, if you happen to know exactly what you want to change in mid-July, there is no need to wait for January to take action. Unfortunately, the reality is that we often need an external prompt to kick off these moments of self-reflection.

The Case for December

For many of us, the end of the year offers several advantages as a time for reflecting and resolving. Although arguably arbitrary, January 1st is a nearly universal milestone. Many companies experience a break in their regular routines offices close, or slow, around the holiday season. Even in cultures with no December-specific celebrations, many companies take advantage of the global slowdown to relax and recharge.

The end of the calendar year also often marks the end of the fiscal year. Budget planning alone requires a degree of introspection that lays the perfect foundation for corporate “resolutions”. Since so many of us spend much of our time working or thinking about work, it is only natural that reflections on the future of the business would inspire similar reflections for our personal lives.

Resolving Regularly

There are, of course, those among us who really do stop and reflect on a regular basis. A good friend of mine routinely asks what my latest goals are. His “resolutions” often get a once over at the end of the year but he never lets them get dusty. Some variations of Agile implementation obviate the annual cycle entirely.

Yet those who implement such regular reflection are, in my experience, some of the most adamant New Year’s resolvers. These individuals keep their goals front of mind so any extra mental space tends to be turned, nearly automatically, to a check of whether the current set of pursuits is still the most appropriate.

In fact, the only people I know who routinely ignore New Year’s Resolutions without detrimental effect are people who tend to plan based on alternate signals. These are teachers who find themselves particularly reflective at the start or end of summer break. They are organizations who start their fiscal year in March, June, or September. In short, are just as likely to plan annually but eschew the January date specifically.

To Resolve or Not to Resolve: A Personal Question

Many of us would like to believe that we spend our lives in a constant state of reflection and self-improvement. We would like to believe that New Year’s is arbitrary and that we will create new resolutions when they are needed. Unfortunately, the reality is that people who actually act on these beliefs are few and far between. For the rest of us, thank goodness for the societal crutch of December 31st!

I am far from the only person who believes that *waiting* for January first to make a positive change is a ridiculous idea. However, I have come to appreciate the value of the new year as a reminder to check in with myself on what such changes might be.

Simply put, the end of December is one of the few times of year when nearly everyone is viscerally aware of the passage of time. This attribute alone marks the end of the year as an ideal time for creating new resolutions and planning ahead. Like it or not, modern society has created a small low pressure zone. If, and how, you choose to use it is entirely up to you.

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