New Year’s resolutions — we love to make them, but also can’t help but break them. But if we’re all acutely aware of how terrible we are with keeping to them, why do we still make them every new year anyway?
It’s pretty simple actually, research shows that it’s human nature to set goals whenever we begin something new, and a new year just seems to be an appropriate time to curate new goals to improve ourselves. There is value in making resolutions, actually. It shows that we’re constantly reflecting and trying to reinvent ourselves for the better, whether it’s to learn a new skill, or improve on our physical health.
Here’s a fun fact about resolutions: it’s actually an old practice that dates back all the way to the reign of Julius Caesar, in 49 B.C. Back then, resolutions were usually centered around morals, such as being kinder to others.
Of course, our modern-day resolutions have come a long way since then. These days, the top 10 most common New Year’s resolutions are: exercising more, losing weight, getting organised, learning a new skill or hobby, living life to the fullest, spending less money, quitting smoking, spending more time with one’s loved ones, travelling more, and reading more.
My goal for 2020: hit the books!
Coincidentally, my own resolution for the year 2020 was to read more books. I’ve always been an avid reader since I was a child, but as I found that as I grew older, more and more distractions (e.g., school, work, boyfriends) began to get in the way of me continuing my habit of reading. Plus, reading more helps me grow as a writer, so why not make it a consistent habit again?
I set out to complete 20 books by the end of the year; these books could be anything I wanted to read about, the main goal was to make reading a consistent habit again. I remember telling my parents my plan, to which they responded with an air of incredulity: “Are you sure you have so much time to read? Don’t need to work ah?” Not very encouraging, but okay, challenge accepted.
With the taunt from my parents, I was even more resolved to finish the stipulated number of books. I decided that I would have to make some concrete changes to help myself reach this goal. One of the struggles I faced was that I didn’t have enough time to read, or rather, I didn’t put in enough effort in carving out time to read. Instead of reading late into the night (which I have a terrible habit of doing), I would now read in the morning, on my way to work.
January to March: reading while commuting
Swapping out my phone for a physical book turned out to be a fantastic way to incorporate reading into my daily routine. I spent less time fussing about how crowded the trains were in public, and naturally spent less time pointlessly refreshing my social media feeds as well.
The first quarter of the year went pretty smoothly; I managed to finish 5 books:
- Loss Adjustment by Linda Collins
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
- Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault
While collating this list, I’ve realised that a lot of my book choices were centered around social issues like crime, and criminal justice. I understand that it’s a pretty niche topic to read about, but it’s something worth exploring to understand the current state of the world today.
That being said, I would recommend The New Jim Crow for those who are interested in finding out more about the American criminal justice system, which is known for disproportionately incarcerating African Americans and people of colour.
April to June: lockdown and depression
The next quarter of the year was where COVID-19 hit our shores, hard. The country went into lockdown, and we were told to work from home, which meant that I had more time for reading. Being locked up at home also gave rise to a lot of mental health issues, which led me to search my faith for answers, and also look to social science and psychology to hopefully get a better understanding of what I was going through. Reading also became a coping mechanism for me, in some sense. Whenever I felt that I was going through a rump, the books at home became a form of solace, where I could temporarily delve into learning more about the world, rather than being trapped in the recesses of my dark thoughts.
- Seeing the Heart of Christ by Bill Crowder
- Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine
- Depression, Anxiety and the Christian Life by Michael S. Lundy
- Not That Bad by Roxane Gay
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz
- Criminal: The Truth About Why People Do Bad Things by Tom Gash
- Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng
- Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton
- Why People Die By Suicide by Thomas Joiner
- We Are Not Such Things by Justine Van Der Leun
- Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves by Jesse Bering
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
As morbid as it sounds, Why People Die By Suicide and Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves are the ones that I would recommend from this list, simply because both books provide very useful insights into a psyche of a person who is actively suicidal (some of which I resonated with at my lowest points). It also provides different perspectives of suicide from different religions and cultures. Though it provides no definitive answer as to whether suicide is objectively right or wrong, it’s definitely an eye-opening read for those who are looking to understand why humans would be driven to end their lives.
July to December: more freedom, less reading (sadly)
As things got better, and as restrictions on going out were eased, I was able to spend more time outside, and naturally, the reading slowed down as well. Looking back, perhaps I could have been more disciplined here with my reading schedule.
Here’s what I completed in the second half months of 2020:
- Who Am I, And If So, How Many by Richard David Precht
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- A Boy of China: In Search of Mao’s Lost Son by Richard Loseby
- Recapture the Wonder by Ravi Zacharias
- Where India Goes: Abandoned Toilets, Stunted Development and the Costs of Caste by Dean Spears and Diane Coffey
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Religion and Politics by Jonathan Haidt
- Live More Think Less: Overcoming Depression and Sadness with Metacognitive Therapy by Pia Callesen
- Psychology of Stupidity by Jean-Francois Marmion
With the (slight) improvement in my mental health, I found myself reaching for psychology books, mostly on understanding how the human mind works, and why people think in the way that they do. Live More Think Less was the book that got me re-thinking how I dealt with my mental health issues. Dr Pia Callesen introduces metacognitive therapy as an alternative form of treatment for depression, whereby it attempts to change the individual’s thinking patterns, as opposed to the content of one’s thoughts. Dr Callesen also explains that contrary to popular belief, we are in control of our thoughts. By choosing not to ruminate on our sad thoughts, we can prevent ourselves from falling into the trap of thinking and worrying ourselves into a rut.
Didn’t complete your resolution in 2020? It’s okay!
In total, I managed to complete 26 books in 2020, well beyond my goal of 20. Of course, a large part of it was because we were confined to our homes for a substantial amount of time, which gave me the liberty to allocate more time into accomplishing my goal.
Even though I was able to complete my goal, it’s okay if you weren’t able to complete yours. It’s been a difficult year for all of us, whether physically, financially, emotionally or mentally. Let’s not make it worse by punishing ourselves for circumstances we can’t control. Instead, try and re-frame the situation: what feats have you achieved this year, in spite of what’s going on in the world?
With the onset of the pandemic, we’ve had to deal with a plethora of changes to our routines — working from home, grappling with the likes of SafeEntry andTraceTogether, and just trying to make sense of a post-pandemic reality in general.
As psychologist Katherine Arbuthnott very aptly puts it, “the pandemic has not only served as a visceral reminder that something unexpected can land in our well-envisioned path, halting all progress. It has also made the path beyond the pandemic unclear”.
We may have had plans for self-growth and self-development, but staying strong amidst these very real struggles already evinces that we’ve become better and stronger people.
Should I still make resolutions for 2021?
Now that we’re somewhat in the clear, and with life gradually returning to its pre-pandemic state, it’s not a bad thing to think about what we’d like to achieve in the year ahead. Perhaps one thing we can do is to start small. Arbuthnott recommends that 2021 resolutions be short-term ones, because of the element of uncertainty of the times that we live in. “It is probably challenging enough to figure out what’s needed to make it through the months until everyone is vaccinated and can start to make their way back into a more social world,” she writes.
I’m not an expert, but these are some tips that I found useful in helping me complete my resolution:
- Plan a routine and stick to it.
- Keep track of your progress, it helps to motivate yourself to keep going!
- Find something about your goal that interests you. Find a friend to share your resolutions with. This will ensure that you’re accountable to someone.
- Take time to regularly reflect on your progress, and adjust your goals if necessary.
So yes, make your resolutions if you want to — but don’t hesitate to start small. I’ve found that starting with an interest (e.g., reading about things that I was curious about) helps with sustaining my efforts as well. For instance, if your goal is to exercise more frequently this year, don’t be afraid to explore other forms of sports, you just might find something you’re passionate about.
After all, the achievement of resolutions is a matter of celebrating what matters to you, so do what feels right for yourself.