Failings of the New Years Resolution
The holiday season, per se, is not the only time that groundbreaking self-realization occurs, but it is, perhaps, the time at which most actionable plans for improvement are instantiated. This is the case for two reasons: opportunity and peer pressure. Opportunity is born from ample holiday time off, and the internal quietude it often induces is a proverbial garden for the fruits of self-reflection. The latter, ironically, is the result of the New Years Resolution (NYR) meme itself. It’s a hot topic in December, and often brought up in conversation. If asked a question enough times, the trial (and error) of various responses and the feedback received can do significant work to inform our responses in the future. From that, follows this conclusion:
The strategically evolved NYR is not necessary reflective of what we actually want to fix, but rather what is cool to fix (and what is a cool way to fix it).
To be sure, I’m not criticizing those who seek self-improvement, nor those who know the power of good feedback. I’m merely remarking on the serendipity with which NYRs are frequently born, rather than the brutal forging that is truly necessary for lasting self-improvement.
However, Impure origins are unfortunately not the worst ailment of the NYR. The crux of the problem is that the beginning of the new year is an arbitrary line in the sand—not necessarily a good time to create lasting effects. It is the tendency of many a person to collect NYRs, only deciding upon which one to go through with when the decision is forced (around December 31st). This causes the enthusiasm that might have been felt at the moment of idea conception to decay with time. The equally despicable flip side of this argument bears the NYR that was grew from societal necessity—from the deadline induced need to feel like you can only be a mature adult if you have a goal chosen on December 31st.
A Better Way to Resolute
Insofar as resolutions are concerned, there are three questions that must be answered: What, How, and When. The first is often exceedingly complex and should be individually personalized, and the second, while interesting, is already a well discussed topic. As such, these will not be the focus of this post. For deeper insight on the mechanics of habits, I highly recommend the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
There are two important factors that must be considered in deciding when to start a new resolution:
The date of ideation is important only in terms of the enthusiasm felt towards an idea. As with anything, an idea born but not acted upon will gradually deflate in its likelihood of creating lasting value. To echo E.T. Bell in Men of Mathematics:
“Hell is paved with half-baked ideas”.
Enthusiasm is not something easily measured, but my experience has been that the enthusiasm towards an idea in hibernation will decrease at a rate proportional to the time passed i.e. if several months go by, the idea in question will almost certainly find its way to wherever ideas go to die. The only preemptive measure against this fate is to make actionable change as soon as possible.
There are instances however, in which it may be beneficial to wait a short period before taking action. This is factor #2. Daily life is essentially a 24-hour string of habits. Whatever you do on a given day is likely to be quite similar to what you did yesterday (or perhaps this day last week). With these habits so deeply ingrained, I’ve found that returning to the natural flow of your day from an irregular state is a great time to make a change. Two specific instances that I have found useful are A) returning from vacation, and B) changing jobs. In both situations, some change is acting as an instigator of flow disruption, both with the expectation that normalcy will be returned to in the short term. As the dust settles, you’ll find that your new habit will be deeply inculcated into your life.
To be totally clear, I’m not philosophically against the New Years Resolution. I am however, a strict pragmatist, and as such I advise that if there is any type of change that you want to make in your life, don’t specifically wait for the New Year. Do it while it’s fresh, do it when you’re most likely to succeed, but most importantly—do it.
The purpose of this piece is to provide justification for a useful organizational tool. At first blush, this piece of stratagem seems to risk tearing the Organized Ideal down from its lofty pedestal, however, significant proof is offered to the contrary.
I call this method: Dorian Gray Organization, and the definition follows as such:
A space, either physical or virtual, having been organized with the purpose of reducing clutter, can include, without ethical contradiction, a sub-compartment of that space, in which no further organization is effectively possible or necessary.
Put succinctly: after you’ve organized your living space, sorting possessions by purpose, frequency of use, etc. It’s okay to leave one drawer for miscellany, or items of questionable utility. This ugliness of this drawer is what allows Dorian to stay beautiful; it is a sacrifice for the greater good.
Any pragmatic organizational scheme has to balance two things: the optimal number of storage compartments, and the optimal capacity of each compartment. Consider this equality: a separate compartment for each individual item is functionally equivalent (in search time) to one compartment storing all items. In both cases, the time saving abstraction of item batches is lost, and each item needs to inspected individually. It follows from this that compartments whose contents fall under an arbitrarily defined critical minimum size, should be avoided, in which case, the best option is to group those items with other possessions falling under the threshold.
This may seem like a contradiction threatening the sanctity of the organizational process. The reason for this apparent contradiction is likely a case of not seeing the forest through the trees. When people create organizational schemes, they tend to do so in an enthusiastic frenzy (perhaps putting it off for months, and then completing the whole task over the course of a weekend). Schemes of this genesis often overlook the end goal of organization: to reduce clutter, and decrease search time in the future. This frenetic, label-making, container-store-shopping craze leads to space being dedicated to items under the aforementioned critical minimum size, sheerly out of momentum.
The contents of the Dorian Gray drawer are dynamic and vary with time. Just as the picture of Dorian Gray grew ugly, left unmonitored, the drawer’s contents will swell, committing it to the same fate. It should be noted that gradual increase in size is acceptable and expected, as one’s possessions will naturally accumulate. A keen eye, however, should be kept alert for logical clusters of items increasing past the critical minimum size. Items of such a categorization should be reallocated to outside of the Dorian Gray drawer.
The last point I wish to make is that like many things, the organizational process will follow the 80/20 rule. The last small bit of organization will take a disproportionately large amount of time. It is in the best interest of time to refrain from this last, insignificant bit, and focus your attention on more urgent matters.
As personal possessions grow in unbounded fashion, Dorian Gray Organization offers a method of minimizing the effort:reward ratio by introducing a stochastically structured buffer space, eponymously named: a Dorian Gray drawer. This drawer will decrease the frequency and need of future reorganizations by an amount proportional to the critical minimum size.