By Regan Devlin – Cento Writer
While establishing goals for oneself is a noble ambition, New Year’s resolutions are notorious for their inconclusive nature; starting off the New Year with high hopes and a fresh slate sounds good in theory, but it is a well-known reality that many abandon these objectives soon after their establishment.
Alfred P. and Katherine B. Jobson Professor of English Dr. Mark Lucas is opposed to New Year’s resolutions in particular. “Everyday is a New Year’s resolution,” Lucas said.
This sort of view is echoed by many who are critical of using the New Year as an arbitrary starting point for a goal or an ambition that can be made at any point in the year. Ultimately, thinkers that share Lucas’s thought agree that self-improvement should occur deliberately throughout the year.
Even generally speaking, the process of goal-making holds interesting psychological implications. In a TED Talk entitled “Keep Your Goals to Yourself,” Derek Sivers, an entrepreneur and creator of an online music store called CD Baby, discussed how announcing goals after making them can make someone less likely to complete the goal, called a “social reality.”
This concept, recognized and named “substitution” in as early as 1926 by Kurt Lewin, founder of social psychology, holds that when a person talks about a goal that they have made, the acknowledgment and recognition that they receive from others acts as a sort of satisfaction, rendering them less likely to work hard and pursue ultimate achievement of the goal.
It was this TED Talk that inspired first year Kevin O’Leary’s far-reaching and all-inclusive New Years resolution.
“The gist is that I want to do everything that I say I’m going to do,” O’Leary said. “It’s a hard resolution because it makes you realize just how cheap talk is. I’ve probably broken it a couple times by now, but I always have Benjamin Franklin’s speckled ax in mind.”
The so-called “speckled ax,” which Franklin writes about in his essay on moral perfection, reflects his realization that such perfection is unattainable but that the process towards this perfection is worthwhile. On the subject he concludes, “On the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise would have been if I had not attempted it, as those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, though they never reach the wish’d for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavor, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible.”
Self-improvement is inevitable through the process of creating and working toward resolutions. Also in his essay, Franklin discusses means of accountability. He created a complex system of charts to visually track his daily process of improvement. Each day, if he acted against his resolutions, of which he had 13, he would draw a black dot in the resolution’s designated square, ultimately aiming for a blank chart at the end of each week.
Sophomore Molly Randolph believes that constant reminders of resolutions encourage success. After being told by her grandfather that she “played it safe” way too often, Randolph got a tattoo of the phrase “carpe diem” on her leg as a constant reminder to step outside of her comfort zone.
She said that the tattoo forces her to hold herself accountable for this goal and that, if anything, not living by the words would make it feel “like an arbitrary piece of ink.”
She attested that the tattoo has helped her hold herself more accountable for the goal.
“I tend to be more of an introvert,” Randolph said. “I have made a lot of great new friends and hung out with new people who I wouldn’t have before because of it.”
First-year Harrison Kirby, who keeps his resolutions in a notebook, decided this year to both focus more on friendships and to pressure himself less, the latter pertaining to both his outlook on stressful school situations and in accomplishing his other resolutions.
“I’m not going to get stressed out or feel like I really messed up if I don’t do perfectly on everything in class or if I upset somebody,” Kirby said. “I’ll just fix things and let it go.”
With such a diverse and motivated student body and faculty, it is unsurprising that members of Centre’s community set high goals for themselves, whether ambiguous or explicit, both during the New Year and otherwise. And it is admirable that even those like Lucas who do not set aside goals for the New Year still attempt to challenge themselves and to achieve self-improvement.