Last week, I finally accomplished my 2020 New Year’s resolution: I learned chess.
It took “The Queen’s Gambit” trailer on Netflix to jog my memory, a quick text to two of my best friends and five hours on a Saturday night, but I did it. And it felt good.
Accomplishments, big or small, feel good. And in a life as unpredictable as ours currently is, setting goals and getting things done – whether trivial or monumental – can help us put one foot in front of the other. I’m a big believer in making New Year’s resolutions for this very reason: Setting goals is good for people.
Yet, in my experience, New Year’s resolutions always get a bad rap. I’ve heard numerous people remark, “If you want to make a change start now,” or “You should work to improve your life each and every day.” To make matters worse, the statistics about New Year’s resolutions are rather disheartening. Forbes reported in 2018 that “40% of Americans will make a declarative statement of their intentions for the year to come.” However, “80% will fail within 30 days,” and only 8% will actually achieve their goals.
The statistics don’t lie: “New year, new me” just isn’t the reality for 92% of New Year’s resolutioners. But, I never said I was a big believer in actually accomplishing each and every resolution with 100% accuracy—I said I was a big believer in making them.
In November and December, many people spend time thinking about what they accomplished in the past year. Did they finish redoing their bathroom? Did they finally earn that degree? Did they adopt the dog they’ve been dreaming of for years? Did they get the promotion at work or land their dream job? Did they fall in love?
Each year, the impending New Year provides a purpose and a deadline for people to ask themselves what they did in the last 365 days. In turn, answering that question can lead to deeper questions. What kind of person are you today? Who do you want to be next year at this time? How do you get there?
New Year’s is a natural pause in our busy lives—the only pause that some people may truly get all year. And New Year’s resolutions serve as an easy, practical, thought-provoking method to get us all to reflect on the biggest questions in this life. So why the bad rap?
I am not naïve enough to believe that all people set New Year’s resolutions that are practical and purposeful. I believe the statistics and recognize that there is very little follow through. But, I am just hopeful enough to believe that if we all took some time to reflect and set goals, the world would be a better place.
New Year’s resolutions give us a reason and a season to take a little step toward who we want to be. So, I’m a believer, and I encourage you to be one too. The key for us all is to set resolutions that will give us some grace to fail and help us keep the big picture in mind.
You might not exercise six days a week and give up fast food in its entirety, but maybe you can resolve to take 30 minutes a day for your health. That could mean exercising, cooking a healthy meal or getting a little extra sleep. And when you fail – unless you’re in the 8% — pause again and make changes to your resolution. You’re not quitting, you’re adapting. You’re still taking a step toward who you want to be even if your step is a little smaller than you hoped.
As we all get closer to taking another trip around the sun, I encourage you to take some time and think about who you want to be in the next 365 days. Then, be creative – and gentle – about how you’re going to get there.
As my hero Mister Rogers says, “Some days, doing ‘the best we can’ may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect on any front and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else.”
Did finally learning chess in November change my life? No. But it was super fun, and it reminded me of who I wanted to be last year when I made that resolution. (It wasn’t very deep: I simply wanted to be a person who played chess with her friends and someday maybe with her kids.)
This year, for the first time in my life, I was one of the 8% and it felt good. But regardless of if I ever completely achieve my resolutions again, I will continue to make them each and every year because I never want to settle for a life that is good enough. New Year’s resolutions encourage us to keep wondering and keep pursuing what we could do and who we could be.
I believe there is a lot of purpose in training our brains to think like that. Checkmate.