We’ve all made New Year’s resolutions. But do they actually work? We asked our pals Peter Bonventre and John Jannuzzi to weigh in on everyone’s favorite empty promises.
New Year’s resolutions are for amateurs. According to numerous studies and polls, something like 85% of New Year’s resolutions end in failure. It’s a fool’s errand to try and buck odds that are so implacably stacked against you. I know what you’re thinking: This guy has no willpower; he’s a quitter. Not so. I found a better way to achieve certain personal goals. Stay with me here.
Back in the day, my go-to resolution was to quit drinking. I was a sportswriter then, and enjoyed hanging out with sources and colleagues over adult beverages in a variety of joints. No, I wasn’t worried about my liver exploding. Like countless millions embarking on a new year, I wanted to lose weight. I figured laying off the booze for a couple of months would do the trick. Well, what few pounds I lost, I regained just like that. I finally resolved to quit making New Year’s resolutions.
Then one night, I was having dinner with a fellow journalist, and after several cocktails and a few glasses of wine with our sides of beef and baskets of French fries, we ordered dessert, along with two snifters of brandy. As we attacked a mound of profiteroles, packed with vanilla ice cream and bathed in chocolate sauce, my friend said, “The only way we’re ever gonna lose weight is to quit drinking once and for all.”
The absurdity of his observation as we stuffed our faces with pastry cracked me up—and led me to the better way I mentioned above. In a word: moderation. Since I didn’t want to quit drinking or give up the foods I craved, I decided to follow Ben Franklin’s sage advice: “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation”—and see where it got me. So on most nights, instead of two or three pre-dinner cocktails, I had one, and I set a limit of two four-ounce glasses of wine with my meal. A 10-ounce piece of sirloin replaced a 16-ounce rib eye. I reduced my intake of pasta to a fist-sized portion. You get the drill. I also started jogging again—in moderation, of course. The weight melted away. All these years later, I’m still 30 pounds lighter than when I was making those resolutions. One more thing: Moderation doesn’t apply to smoking. Quit now. Got it?
I have never actually kept a new year’s resolution. I am a man and I can admit that. But that isn’t to say I haven’t tried to improve over the years. (I have.) Like many people, I once made the courageous declaration to get in shape, to free myself of the flab. At first, I worked my tail off. I ran as far and as fast as I could. Then, suddenly, I slept through my alarm one morning and I skipped my workout. Then I skipped it again. The days of hitting the snooze button stacked up until eventually, I quit. For many of us, that initial kick nearly always passes.
I hold New Year’s resolutions in the same regard as their ugly step-cousin, New Year’s Eve. The absurdity of the assumption that one solitary night, the last night of the year, is supposed to be the best and most magical leads to an awful lot of pressure. There’s expensive sparkling wine, dancing, unnecessarily nice clothes and, if you’re lucky, someone to peck away the final hours of the year with. Once it’s gone, you’re meant to wake up and be christened a “new you,” complete with a hardened resolve that couldn’t be mustered last year. I ask: what is it about the last day of the year that conjures up notions of how you’ve been not-quite-all-you-could-be? A day on the calendar is only that (and January 1st isn’t much to dance about). Surely we – at least those of us living in a climate like New York – can be pardoned for not finding the dead of winter as sufficient inspiration to push us towards new heights as people.
Here’s what I’m trying to say in a nice way: if you want to change something about yourself, just go for it. No one needs an occasion to make themselves better, or to switch things up. Altering a habit or beginning a new one is hard enough without attaching a deadline or a red flag like New Year’s to it.
Here’s what I really mean: we’re all gonna die. And time is ticking. So, if you wake up on a Tuesday in the spring and decide that biting your nails simply must come to an end, then go with it. The catalyst isn’t nearly as important as the result. I’ve quit drinking in March. I’ve lost weight in June. Let us all shout collectively: “Bite us, New Year’s.” Don’t wait another calendar cycle to do something positive for yourself.