Michael He

June 15, 2021

New Year Old Me

"New Year New Me" is an illusion.

When the clock strikes twelve on January 1st, it's natural to think about new year resolutions. I will get fitter. I will save more money. I will finally learn Python... And the list keeps growing.

But you are the same old you in the same old new year.

By April you feel bad about how little you have done. You think of ways to catch-up, while feeling a never-ending cycle of self-shame, frustration, and doubt. After all, you have thrown away one third of the year with no progress at all! You don't want to feel like a lost cause after all the wasted time, so you decide to do something. That works for a bit until it doesn't. Life resumes the same old beat. 

By October you freak out about how 202x is almost over and you haven’t really done anything about the new year resolutions. In a frantic attempt, you follow a disciplined schedule like a monk. Every day, I will read, journal, and meditate. You do that for a few days and feel great, but one day you cannot finish the entire routine for some reason. Perhaps there is an emergency. Perhaps work throws life out of balance. Perhaps you feel too burnt out to finish everything. Either way, your streak has ended and you are upset at yourself. You promise to bounce back, but the passion dies again.

On December 31st, you rinse and repeat the cycle. I will definitely get fitter next year, save more money, and start coding Python with Django…

Stop doing this! Screw this “New Year New Me” delusion. It’s always “New Year Old Me” anyways.

Why doesn't "New Year New Me" work?

Things do not work when you go against human nature. If you are desperate for ice cream because you haven't had any in a long time, then seeing a gelato store on a hot day will trigger an irresistible force. You simply cannot walk away from the waffle cones. Don't go against your inner self on these things.

We are not always honest with ourselves and we won’t know until we have self-knowledge. Understanding "know thyself" and actually knowing thyself are very different, even though it sounds so obvious. You can learn and process the former saying, but not do the latter. Logic is not the language of human nature. 

Self-knowledge is a little like faith. When you believe, you believe. Similarly, you don't need intricate reasoning to obtain self-knowledge. It is a rather mysterious process, but you will know when you have it. 

Here is the good news - it is entirely possible to know thyself. It just takes time, patience, open-mindedness, and honesty.

I am not fully self-actualized, but I am a bit better than the previous day. I don't wait around for a whole new month to change things in my life, because that doesn't help. 

One day I just decided to drop all productivity hacks. No more optimization and meticulous planning. If something feels like a chore that I must do, I do it ASAP without fearing the outcome. Otherwise, I take my sweet time. This change out of nowhere has gotten me through the last few years, partly because it gets enough good work done without too many restrictions. Some good work is a lot better than a lot of mediocre work. 
Why do we make new year resolutions and rarely succeed at those? 

There are plenty of challenges, but self-identity and psychological resistance are probably the big culprits. By making new year resolutions and saying "new year new me", you are rejecting yourself and the way you have been. It indirectly breaks life's continuity into pieces and time into fragments. In today's 24/7 connected society, fragmenting things is common. 

Part of this tendency comes from our calendar obsession. Calendar is a human invention, but we gradually internalize calendars into our unconsciousness and culture. Phones and computers only make this more omnipresent. We have normalized this arbitrary construct without much consideration. Remember when you had to wear a watch or look at a clock to know the time? You were just as busy back then, but you didn't feel as rushed and unproductive as now. The clock tells you it's time to go home, but it doesn't say anything about your diet regimen progress. The calendar on your phone and the app inside your head do that 24/7, 365 days a year.
In addition, we also have a "clean state fetish". Similar to how people break plates or display destructive behaviors when upset, we want to distance ourself from our "unwanted" and "ugly" past. When I imagine yanking the table cloth and ruining a table of food, I feel happy rather than ashamed. Having this clean break with one's flaws makes life feel better at the moment.

Terrible as it may seem, this sense of frustration is not necessarily bad. Rather, it shows our yearning for constant improvement. It's the conflict between this desire to better oneself and human desire in general that makes things challenging. 

In a sense, we are fighting against thermodynamics. Things become chaotic and less orderly over time, but trying to keep things in order will only speed up the chaotic-producing process to even more chaos. When you lose against your inner desires and sins, a part of your hope dies. Then begins a vicious cycle of self-loathing and unresponsive behaviors . 

What should we do then?

While I don't know the exact solution, circuit breakers may be helpful.

Overwhelming electric currents will active the circuit breaker and you can find ways to break from the negative energy too. You don't have to let it consume you. Don’t getting trapped in the unproductive and harmful mindset of "new year new me, and screw all my past good and bad".

We have to be aware of things we can control and things we cannot. In the case of "new year old me", just embrace the reality. Yes, I am still the same lazy person from last year. Yes, I still want to eat junk food and binge Netflix. But this doesn’t mean I can’t exercise more often and eat vegetables. Sleeping-in doesn't mean I will accomplish nothing in my life. I can get better directionally without feeling miserable.

Projecting one thing to a completely different thing is so natural, we sometimes forget how unreasonable it can be. Binging YouTube from time to time doe not mean I am a lost cause. 

Without fully accepting ourselves, we will never stop feeling bad. Turn it around and make a change for good. If you want to change, why wait for January 1st? Why not start now? Perhaps you want to run a marathon. Find a training plan and start today. Better yet, just go out for a brisk walk right now! 

Make things easy to do and you won't have to worry about getting things done. Make sure they are satisfying and you will constantly improve without actively forcing yourself. Maybe you don't need to make any new year resolutions. You can work on your goals when you think of them. Why can't February 22nd be a good start to your drawing journey?

Time indicators don't really matter when you focus on right now. Meditation and focusing on the present work because of that. They break the overwhelming feeling of time's passage. 

Imagine you are diagnosed with cancer on March 17 (which is really unfortunate). Will you wait until January 1st for treatment? Of course not! This is an extreme case, but the point is there. The tendency of "new year new me" delays one's wish to do better. This is not necessarily procrastination, because you are actually willing to do this thing. It's just that a part of you turns you away from this positive desire and chains you in the dungeon of inaction, so you despair again and again. The internal Resistance loves feasting on our negative energies, so don't give in!

Screw "new year new me". Accept "new year old me". And start moving now. Focus on the goal, not on the time. I wish you the best. Let's kick some butt!

About Michael He

Trying to get better every single day.