Now that the Christmas holidays are over, it’s time for my second favorite holiday of the year: New Year’s Eve. Who doesn’t love a night dedicated to celebrating the end of a year (or a giving it a swift kick in the ass out the door, depending on how your year went) and the infinite possibilities that the future may hold.
Plus, it’s a great excuse to get together with friends and get absolutely fuckin’ hammered.
The great thing is that there’s no specific way to celebrate. I’ve had quiet nights with a close group of friends singing all of the expected cliches while we waited for the new millenium and end of the world1, gotten drunk at raging house parties, crashed the parties of strangers and made out with random people, slept in with instructions to be woken up only if something is on fire and hit the VIP section of an exclusive club for end-of-the-year shenanigans.
However, there’s one New Years tradition – besides the Nursing of the Hangover – that is universal: the New Year’s Resolution. That promise to yourself that things are going to be different in the new year.
And I want you to stop making them.
New Years Resolutions Are Failure Waiting To Happen
Straight talk: New Years resolutions are essentially useless. It’s a way trying to convince yourself – or more accurately, your friends, family and co-workers – that things are going to be different this year. This is the year that you’re going to make a change!
But let’s be honest. Most New Years resolutions are an attempt to have the glory of the change without the actual commitment. After all, if you were really determined to make a change in your life, why have you picked an arbitrary day as the demarcator for the old you and the new you? The symbolism of starting a major life change at the dawn of a new year, full of limitless potential? All well and good… but this is the same reason why most diets start “next Monday” and last about as long.
To give you an idea of the traditional lifespan of a New Years resolution, I would like to point you to my gym. They love New Years. It’s the time when they make the most money. New members sign up flush with dreams of washboard abs and sculpted arms, Pilates classes and yoga-clad asses… and promptly quit coming in by March. Almost every one of these new members have all signed up for yearly contracts because hey, they’re going to change, man, they’re gonna really commit to the idea so none of that “month to month” action for me, thank you. So now they’re locked in to making payments every month – regardless of whether they come in or not. And they won’t.
The excuses start early: “I don’t have time today. I’m not in the mood. I’m too tired. I’m not feeling well.” From there it turns into “Well, I’ll get back to the gym later…”, which in turn becomes “Oh yeah, I should do something about that gym membership I never use, huh?”
So now my gym has essentially gotten a year’s worth of money for next to nothing. One more set of dues in exchange for next to no services. And this is from a no-bullshit, no-upselling, no-tricks-in-the-contract gym.
Imagine how much one of the less scrupulous ones is dying to fuck you over via your failed resolution.
You don’t want to be one of those quitters, right? So make sure you’re not making some common mistakes.
Do You Know What You Want?
One of the most common causes of failure when it comes to New Years resolutions is that they’re overly broad.
For example: the odds are good that a large number of my readers would have a resolution like “This year, I’m going to get better with women.” And – considering that the whole point of why I do this is to help people get better at dating – I applaud that. But at the same time, I’m shaking my head because, frankly, they’re also setting themselves up for failure.
Just as “I want to eat healthier” or “I want to get fit”, this is such vague goal that it’s almost meaningless. On the one hand, it means that you can do almost anything, call it achieving your resolution and coast for the rest of the year, content in the knowledge that you are, indeed, better with women… because you managed to actually talk to someone for ten minutes. On the other hand, having a goal so vague makes it almost impossible to plan on how to realistically achieve it.
What you want will play a huge role in just how you get there. After all, “to get better with women” is going to mean different things to different people. Some of my readers are looking to find that special someone, start a monogamous relationship and have an eye towards marriage and kids. Meanwhile, others are interested in seduction, looking for fuck buddies or no-strings attached sex with more partners than they’ve had before. Still others are hoping to learn how to interact with women at all, lose their virginity or just resolve common dating problems. These are all good, worthwhile goals to pursue – but while they’re related, they require a different focus and development of skills and styles.
If you’re looking for settling down, you’re going to want to put your attention on different areas of your life and your development than if you’re looking to be a playboy. If you’re having problems even just talking to women without accidentally turning them off or shooting yourself in the foot, then knowing how to build physical attraction is the developmental equivalent of trying to run before you can crawl.
But speaking of that…
What You Want vs. What You Need
Sometimes it’s not a issue of being too vague. Sometimes it’s an issue of not knowing the right thing to try to change.
This is fairly common when you’re young, especially if you’re making a New Year’s resolution over things that you’ve been dealing with for a long time.
For example: lots of people who are socially inexperienced or otherwise bad at dating will often make assumptions about what they want – myself included. It’s only natural, when you’ve been the one who’s Bad With Girls to want to see how the other half lives. Sometimes it may bring out part of you that was always there. Other times you may find that what you wanted wasn’t what you needed after all and you need to take another pass.
Now to be fair: sometimes this is a necessary process. Sometimes the only way to find out that what you want isn’t what you think it is is to chase after it for a while.
Sometimes, however, the pursuit itself can be unhealthy.
Take weight-loss, for example; easily the most common New Years resolution. Many people, men and women, will try to achieve a particular look or some arbitrary number that we are told is the defacto standard of beauty, despite the fact that it is literally impossible for them to achieve. A woman with Christina Hendricks’ build is never going to look like Kate Moss no matter how much they diet or exercise themselves into exhaustion.
Similarly, someone built like Matt Smith isn’t going to look like Joe Manganiello no matter how much time he spends in the gym.
(I mean, c’mon. Maganiello has eyebrows after all…)
And in both cases, all that time exercising and dieting will ultimately do them no good if what they’re trying to do is attain a goal for other people rather than because it makes them feel good about themselves.
Just because you want something doesn’t mean that it’s the change that you need or that it’s going to make things better. Sometime that resolution you’re trying to make is treating a side-effect rather than a cause.
Biting Off More Than You Can Chew
One common problem, especially among young men, is the tendency to take on a project without stopping to consider the ramifications. A few years back, I was hanging out with some of my friends and wingmen, shooting the shit before we went out to hit the clubs. One guy, new to the scene was talking about his goal to have at least three new sex partners a month and how he wouldn’t be able to see himself as a success until he hit that goal.
Now, if that’s what you want, then I fully support it (with the usual caveats of not seeking sex as a source of external validation, practicing safe sex, not being a complete dick to the people you sleep with…) but you need to go into any goal with your eyes wide open.
Take the example of wanting to sleep with three new partners every week – presumably also maintaining relationships with previous partners, but not always. It’s a nice idea but it quickly runs into the limits of reality quickly. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you likely have to hold down a full time job. You may be a college student, in which case you have classes and studying as well. Right there, that’s 160 hours out of your month. You also need to sleep – if you’re young, you can get away with less, so assume 5 to 6 hours a night. So now that’s 168 hours. Eating and basic hygene – well, if you push it, let’s say two and a half hours for three meals and a quick shower – 70 hours. Grand total: 398 hours per month are going towards basic life maintenance. That’s half your month gone. This isn’t even factoring in things like shopping for groceries or time spent commuting to and from work or school. So now you’re going to have to start making choices. Are you going to sacrifice time with your friends in order to chase after sex? How much time are you going to put into relationship maintenance with your other sex partners in the hopes of keeping them around? Or are you going to be tossing them aside like used kleenex? How much time do you have to spend actually chasing after women? Even when I was at my absolute best2, hooking up with women I met that night, I was spending at least 15 hours a week out at night – and that was if I kept to just weekends.
Do you have the money to support a lifestyle like that? Those drinks don’t come cheap. Do you have the time and energy to devote to it? Are you willing to give up time on the computer, on the Xbox, hanging out with the friends in your life whose lives don’t revolve around trying to get laid?
It’s theoretically possible, yes… but it’s also expensive and fucking exhausting. A little more time spent thinking about what will be involved may mean you’re not hitting quite the same numbers, but you’ll be far healthier.
Too Much, Too Fast
It’s human nature to want results and want it yesterday. This is why people fall for “get rich quick” schemes or “miracle diets” that promise to help us shed 20 unsightly pounds in two weeks. We imagine the life that we’ll have when we’ve met our resolutions and we want to be living it as soon as humanly possible. We want to quit smoking by March 1st or lose 40 lbs by May.
Unfortunately, reality tends to have other ideas.
It takes a very long time to break a habit – some experts estimate that it takes up to 60 days of constant reinforcement to create a new habit or to break an old one – and it’s incredibly easy to fall back into them without even meaning to. And to make matters worse, our own brains will go out of their way to sabotage our efforts.
Have you ever tried to quit, say, Diet Coke3 cold turkey? At first it’s a struggle; you go out of your way to find substitutes to ease the cravings and white-knuckle through the withdrawal effects. But before you know it, it starts getting easier. Sure, you have to remind yourself to get iced tea instead of a soda when you’re out at restaurants but it’s not the skin-crawling, would-stab-your-Nana levels of cravings. So you’re feeling pretty good! You’re beating it! You’re about to kick the habit for good! No more phosphates and aspartame4 for you!
Until you’re passing by the vending machine at work and you decide that hey, you’ve got this under control… you can have one Diet Coke.
Next thing you know, you’re back on your 8 cans a day habit. Where did all that discipline and effort go?
Well, your brain fucked you over with an extinction burst. You’ve conditioned your brain to expect a certain reward – in this case, the rush of caffeine and aspartame – and now you’ve been denying it. Realizing that it’s about to be deprived of that particular stimulus forever, your brain sends out a last ditch burst of desire for that particular stimulus – and as a result, your willpower crumbles.
The faster and harder you push yourself, the harder you’re going to hit that particular wall. Changing your life is a long-term process; the more you try to take short-cuts, the more your brain will fight back to keep it’s old ways.
So What Do You Do?
Now that I’ve bombarded you with tales of failure and woe, you may well be asking yourself “So what’s the point of even trying to change if it’s all going to end in tears?”
But it doesn’t have to.
You just have to be smart about how you chase your New Years resolutions. You want clearly defined goals that you can pursue at a steady, even pace. Making small changes can have huge cumulative effects and cultivating the right habits can make reaching your goals not just easier but inevitable.
I’ve given you a guide to help you plan your way, and now the rest is up to you.
Now good luck. And let’s see 2013 be your best year yet.
Got a plan for your new year? Share it in the comments, then join the Dr. NerdLove Forum to find tips and support to meet your goals!