The best time for a new year resolution is not January, but October!
The beginning of the year usually brings new year resolutions. Many people want to stop smoking, lose weight, do more exercise, or be more loving and caring, starting from the first of January. So, the beginning of the year is the best time for new year resolutions, but is it?
I want to challenge this notion and propose September or October as the best time of the year for new year resolutions.
The real year starts in autumn
The fact that the calendar year starts in January is mainly random. It is linked to pagan rituals associated with the winter solstice, but it could have been otherwise and started any other month.
The Romans, for example, started their year in March and thus gave us the names of many months based on their number. These are entirely out of place today: September was the seventh month (sept is seven in Latin) but is now the ninth, October the eighth (octo = eight), November the number nine (nove = nine), and December was the tenth (deca = ten).
In China and many other Asian countries, the new year starts around February.
In most countries in the Northern Hemisphere, it would make more sense to start the year just after summer. In summer, most of us have our biggest breaks. This constitutes the perfect parenthesis between years to reflect, take stock on how the year went, and define the new goals for the new one.
Schools in most Northern countries follow this pattern and start their courses usually in September or the end of August. Some countries start their fiscal year in September. Some companies, including mine, also set up their financial years between September and August.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. For me, the actual year started last month. It makes more sense than stopping the year in December and starting it again in January after a short break of a few days.
That’s why I usually choose my new year’s resolutions in September and not in January.
What is a good resolution?
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualisation is at the very top. I agree with Maslow in that being human means pursuing self-improvement and growth. We are at our happiest when we become the best versions of ourselves and when we are the best we can be.
You cannot change and improve if you don’t have the right goals, objectives and purpose to do it. That’s a resolution after all: the willingness to achieve something, a goal, and a commitment to improve on or change something.
A resolution leads us to new heights, the same way an inspiring vision moves a team forward. A resolution leads our behaviours and helps us develop new, more helpful habits in our lives.
Set your resolutions and follow them, but don’t blame yourself or get discouraged when you don’t achieve them. There is probably a reason for not achieving them yet. Maybe you weren’t so committed to your resolution after all. Self-castigation and self-doubt have never helped anybody, they won’t help you either.
A failed resolution, until it wasn’t
I used to be a heavy smoker. One of those smokers who would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and have a quick ciggy before going back to sleep. It was disgusting, but I was hooked. I think I tried giving up smoking more than fifty or sixty times. It was a joke. I was a joke. People would tell me, “are you trying to stop again? What, for another couple of weeks or how long will it last this time?”
I started to think I was the joke, and I felt terrible about it. I wanted to stop smoking because I knew it wasn’t good for me, and I didn’t enjoy it, but looking back, I realized I wasn’t ready at the time. The first fifty-odd times, it was too soon for me, but in each of them I learned something new. I became better at the useful skill of giving up smoking, until one fine day of September 2013 I definitely stopped, once and for all. I haven’t had a single puff ever since, and I don’t miss it.
When we set up a new resolution, it might be too ambitious, or we aren’t ready for it yet. Then we probably won’t achieve it, which will bring us frustration. Still, we will learn from our failures, and the next time we’ll do better. It is necessary to try new things if we want to change.
Consistency is the name of the game, trying new things until you find what works for you.
Sharpening the saw
If you haven’t read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, you should do it now. It is a few decades old, but it is timeless and reads as well now as it did when it came out. It is one of the bibles in leadership and management literature, a pearl of wisdom among so many terrible books.
The last habit Covey talks about is “Sharpening the saw”. This is about seeking continuous improvement and being constantly focused on development and growth, not only professionally, but in all areas of life.
Covey talks about improvements in different areas:
- Physically, by being fit and in good health, through exercise, enough sleep, a good diet, etc. (and not smoking, of course!)
- Social and emotionally, by cultivating the right relationship, loving and feeling loved, making meaningful connections with others.
- Mentally, by reading, learning, writing, and teaching. In sum, by cultivating our minds.
- Spiritually, by spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self by meditating, music, art, or service to others.
If you are to focus on new year resolutions, you should try to cover all these areas. Some areas will require more attention than others in some moments in life, but you should never forget about any of them. They are all essential to have a fulfilling life, so we should try to work on and improve in all of them.
My new year resolutions
A couple of weeks ago I went on a sailing trip in the Mediterranean with some friends. We do this every year, and I love it. It is the perfect time to disconnect, charge the batteries, and spend some quality time with old friends, but also to reflect and think about the past, present, and future. I thought it was a great time to take stock of the past year and define the resolutions for the “year” starting now, until next summer.
I started writing this article then, on that boat, as I reflected on what I wanted to achieve and improve upon.
These are my new year resolutions, following Covey’s four areas:
– Physical: I would like to lose some weight and get fitter. A couple of years ago, I ran a half-distance triathlon or half Ironman, and I finished it in about six and a half hours, which was a good time for me. Now I can barely run 10 km without stopping (let’s not talk about swimming and cycling…). I put on some weight, and I am not as fit as I used to be. Thus, I set as my resolution to lose 5 kgs and get on track for another half Ironman or similar race next summer.
– Social/Emotional: as I wrote last time, I am back in Bermeo, my hometown, after many years living abroad. My obvious target here is to reconnect with family and friends. The bond is still there, but in some cases, I need to rebuild it a bit. I want to be more loving to the people who are important in my life. I also intend to visit some good friends I haven’t seen for a while.
– Mental: I have abandoned you for a while, dear reader. I haven’t written much in the last couple of months, which is something I regret. My most important resolution in this area is to write more and publish articles on my blog more frequently. Learning never stops, so apart from writing, I would like to keep learning about the Future of Work, people development, talent management, coaching, and any other topic that might pick my interest for a while, as it often happens.
– Spiritual: I am not meditating as much as I used to do a few months ago, and I noticed it. My resolution here again is to meditate every day, at least ten minutes. I would also like to serve other people better. I am still figuring out how, but this is important for me, and I don’t do enough of it.
As you can see, there is nothing earth-shattering or utterly original here. My new year resolutions are few and simple, but simple is good. It is better than complicated, and I always thought that quality trumps quantity every time. There is no point in setting up too many resolutions if you aren’t going to achieve them.
Many of my resolutions are about recovering habits I have lost, like meditating, doing sport, or writing. Some habits take long to build but are easy to abandon. I know these habits are good for me, they make me feel better and help me grow as a person, so I want to get them back into my everyday rhythm. If I do that I’ll be satisfied.
If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to set up your new year resolutions now, rather than wait until January and forget about them in February. Then when you get to the end of the calendar year, you can take stock and redefine your resolutions or re-commit to them if necessary. Good luck!