We toil, strive, and labour for 365 days, and come the end we’ve stored up a miniature list of all of the self-improvements required to make the next year even better. What we seemingly forget, though, are the laws of habit. Presumably, when making New Year’s Resolutions, our intention is to establish new behavioural patterns that positively influence the way we govern our lives. In other words, we intend to form new, constructive habits, so that we are able to act virtuously without even having to think about doing so. It seems peculiar, then, that we wait until the end of the year to begin the formation of these habits.
Our expectations surrounding the New Year are typically fanciful. Once the clock strikes midnight, all of our problems will be cured and we’ll be able to regenerate a shiny, new version of ourselves instantaneously. I fear that I’m not even exaggerating; how often does one hear the line, “In the New Year… [everything will get better/I’m going to become…/things are going to change]”? More frequently than one should, I suspect. The evident problem with this mentality is that habits take a significant period of intense, context-dependent repetition to form. In common mythology, habits take 21 days to develop; according to University College London, that number is closer to 66. Irrespective of the precise number of days after which one can expect to have created a new habit, the point stands that one cannot expect their habit to have supernaturally appeared overnight. Habit formation takes time and consistency, and so the mentality that deifies the first day of every year is really quite inconsistent with the proper establishment of new, automatic ways of living.
If you’re looking to form a new habit, start now. Whenever you happen to stumble across this post, begin your habit formation as soon as you’ve finished reading it. It makes no rational or scientific sense to store all of your demons up until the end of the year, and expect them to be realised as if by magic. Start your work now, stick at it, and your habit will develop. Don’t save it until New Year’s Day, and subsequently become upset when, after a week, nothing seems to have changed.