Thoughts on New Year's Resolutions

One of the websites I read when I get the chance is, an online humor magazine. While cracked bills itself as a humor site, there are often useful tidbits of information there. One of the traditions on the site is re-posting a popular article written by Jason Pargin (aka "David Wong") entitled "6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person." It was originally published in 2012 and has been reprinted every year since.

Now, I'll warn you: often uses profanity, which I don't necessarily approve of and personally try to avoid. This particular article contains some doozies. Moreover, the article doesn't mince words, and there are some parts even I find offensive. Nevertheless, I read it every year, because it reminds me that, more than nearly anything else, it's what I *do* in the coming year that will matter most. For me, this is a really important thing to remember when planning new year's resolutions, something that's popular around this time of year.

For example, suppose I want to be a more compassionate person. I could try to develop feelings of compassion on the inside, and I could train myself to weep at the poverty in the world, etc. But the real question is: how am I putting those feelings into action? If I don't show my compassion in tangible ways, it's not worth much. The same goes for any other goal, and there's a lot of truth to be learned in this article.

The other thing I like about the article is Pargin's discussion at the end about our minds' tendency to resist change. You want to be more active in the new year? Guess what, your mind will resist you at every turn, it will discount good advice, and it will fight you. Real change is hard, and this article makes that abundantly clear. Hopefully, knowing beforehand will help us to be prepared and press on in spite of the resistance.

While this holds for any new year's resolution, it's true for our line of work in particular. To be better scientists we (I'm including myself here) must develop inquisitiveness, technical skills, discipline, etc. But that development needs to be directed toward action and output, and we need to be prepared to fight ourselves at every turn - old habits, distractions, and patterns will constantly resist the changes we try to make.

Worse, failure is inevitable. We will have bad days - days where we don't stick to our goals. But the successful people will come back the next day with a desire to keep moving toward success. Lots of people want to lose weight in 2015, and everyone will have several days where they eat the chocolate cake instead of the fruit. But what separates the successes from the failures is that the successful people get back on their diet, even after they screw up. Successful people make success a pattern, even if it's not always perfectly consistent.

All that said, read the article. Be reminded of the truths there, gloss over some of the less helpful bits, and know that we are all in this together to get better at what we do.