The New Year’s Resolution is an entertaining ritual that is ripe for dissection by self-help gurus, cultural critics, and other miscellaneous purveyors of snark. I don’t have much to add to the dialogue apart from noting that I enjoyed reading this catalog of the resolutions of creative luminaries. Some were witty; others were predictably self-promotional. Some showed an appealing depth or at least human-ness to an elevated and remote figure; others evoked a desperation for recognition and status, like a comically-oversized Rolex.
It’s pleasant to join the swell of momentum and purpose that we see in friends and strangers who commit to lose weight, eat better, save more, and finally tackle that pet project. Often, what stands between a person and her resolution is simply a set of things that she already knows to do or not-do; only modest assembly required. So, even the most jaded of us can indulge the fantasy that our ‘best life’ stands ready to be seized. I truly hope that almost everyone achieves her goal for 2011, if only because I’d be thrilled to live among better-looking, more-solvent compatriots who have reached a greater state of peace and balance. Yes we can!
When looking at the New Year’s Resolution from the perspective of the cognitive scientist or behavioral economist, all sorts of worthy questions emerge. Why do we have, as individuals and groups, certain ‘time-inconsistent preferences,’ where our Virtuous Selves aspire to practices that our Future Actual Selves often fail to follow? Why are our old habits so hard to break? There is an emerging literature in this domain that may produce some interesting suggestions to ‘hack’ ourselves into greater compliance with our goals, although I suspect it’s more likely to confirm intuitions that have been endlessly rehashed. (And I, for one, resolve to become credentialed as an ‘expert’ in something.)
There are exciting prospects, which I’m certainly not the first to observe (or, sadly, commercialize), for technology to help our Virtuous Selves assert control. A food journal has always seemed tedious (must I really track all the ingredients in that salad?), unromantic (“pardon me, but can you ask the chef whether this is a six-ounce or eight-ounce filet of dover sole?”), and impractical (am I really going to carry a pad and pen everywhere?). But why not take a quick photo of whatever I’m about to eat, which I sometimes do for fun anyway? Even better, why not upload those photos for the periodic inspection of a trusted group of friends (or strangers; why not?) and give my auditors the freedom to praise or embarrass me for my choices? There exist specialized apps and services to record workouts, expenses, sleeping habits, or whatever else one may care to monitor. Certainly none of these are necessary, but they materially increase the convenience of measuring and managing oneself.
Make every day in 2011 count. Just please don’t all to come my gym during my regular hours…