Every year at this time, millions of people solemnly resolve to improve something about their lives in some way, and the vast majority of those resolutions quickly fail. There are many who tell us that making new year’s resolutions is futile, so why try? After all, failure is almost guaranteed, online so making resolutions is a waste of time at best and potentially harmful to your self-esteem.
Two of the most healthy states of mind that anyone can have are gratitude and optimism. We already have a national holiday specifically dedicated to gratitude, clinic so why not have one set aside for optimism? In these pessimistic days, there’s a general sense that our best days are behind us, and that the future holds only danger, decline and despair. I don’t believe this is true for us as a nation, and you should never ever believe it is true for yourself personally.
In 1967, Martin Seligman and colleagues conducted experiments with dogs, in which some were repeatedly subjected to electric shocks from which they could not escape regardless of what levers they pressed. Most of those dogs learned to be helpless, so that in an ensuing experiment in which they could escape the shocks by leaping a low partition, they simply lay down and whined. I find it horrifying that anyone would do something like that to a dog, but how many times to people do something similar to themselves? People can also learn to be helpless. They try something, it doesn’t work, they listen to others who tell them it’s futile to keep trying, and they give up, even when there may only be a low partition keeping them from where they want to be.
The problem with this type of pessimism is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy—that low partition may as well be ten feet high.
This is not a recommendation for uninformed or naïve optimism. Admiral James Stockdale, who survived seven years of brutal captivity in North Vietnam, told author Jim Collins that the ones who did not survive that ordeal were the optimists, who thought they would be out by a certain date, and died of a broken heart when it did not happen. Stockdale said:
“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
You should make resolutions fully expecting that they will be difficult to fulfill, so when the inevitable difficulties come up you will be mentally prepared. But never let those difficulties keep you from trying.
Sure, millions of people resolve to lose weight or quit smoking, and millions fail. But millions succeed, and the vast majority of those failed numerous times before they succeeded. Don’t let the small likelihood of success turn into the certainty of failure before you even begin. Resolve.
Let’s make New Year’s Day Optimism Day.