In a recent New York Times article, Ruth Chang argued that we cannot make New Year's resolutions based on certain irrefutable facts about their value. Instead, seemingly different options can be in the same value neighborhood, meaning that to make the right choice, all one needs to do is select the alternative that he or she can commit to. I’d like to explore how value and commitment can help us become better versions of ourselves and ultimately better our BC experience.
It’s been almost a month since that auspicious night when we swore that we would go to the gym seven days a week, cut back on drinking, snatch up a significant other, focus on school, or all of the above. At the time, these resolutions seemed attainable. It was a new year! We were motivated, refreshed (and probably drunk). Anything was possible.
Now, just three weeks later, I’m willing to bet that life has gotten in the way of the carefully crafted “new you.” For some this may be demoralizing; for others, an expected, though no less disappointing, result. Is our failure a result of making resolutions that are too difficult to stick with, or are we just not trying hard enough?
I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. To begin with, as students at BC, our perceptions of what is important, valuable and desirable are skewed by our environment. BC can often feel like a little slice of heaven isolated from the problems of the real world, but simultaneously, the prevailing culture can subtly impose high standards of “excellence” on its student body. It’s not enough to be healthy; one has to be skinny, but also in shape. It’s not enough to take hard classes; one has to be involved in every organization on campus and still be getting A’s. It’s not enough to go out once a week; one has to party from Thursday to Saturday and drink to excess each time.
When faced with such unattainable criteria for excellence, it’s no wonder that our attempts often fail. Even worse is the feeling that everyone else has somehow gotten it right. Why can we not mold ourselves into a BC approved version when everyone around us seems to fit the template perfectly? This mentality is perpetuated among students, blinding us to the difficulty of our resolutions.
This brings me to my second question about whether or not we are trying hard enough to achieve our goals. I think that rather than a problem of willpower, we face a problem of commitment. The resolutions we make are things that we wish were different about ourselves in the context of our lives at BC. We are letting outside “facts” about "the BC ideal" dictate what we value about ourselves.
It is much harder to fully commit to a goal when it comes from a desire to conform to external values rather than from a personal desire to improve. Mentally convincing ourselves that we need to change can only go so far; at our core, we will rally against the notion that we can change, or even that we should. Eventually, we will give up. The combined impossibility of BC standards and our innate uneasiness and resistance towards an external value system make for an insurmountable challenge. Even the strongest of wills cannot succeed long term.
So what should we do? I think the first step is to be aware of the disconnect between standards of excellence at BC and our own standards of excellence. Everyone has a slightly different internal value system, and it’s important not to superimpose BC’s cultural expectations over our own principles. Instead, we should adapt, picking and choosing the ideals that match up with our core beliefs.
Once we have shattered the apparent perfection of the BC model, we can begin to make resolutions that won’t fade away come February. There will still be things about ourselves that we feel aren’t up to par; parts of our lives that we desire to improve. However, by pinpointing these areas and making realistic goals, we can commit ourselves to self-improvement. When we falter, we will not simply be disappointing BC, we will be disappointing ourselves. And that is what will make us pick ourselves back up and start again rather than give up and walk away.
Faced with choices every day, we turn to BC for the answers. Our environment dictates our values in subtle ways, and will continue to do so even as we grow up and fly the nest. We need to be conscious of the way we let the views of the world affect the choices we make, and we need to understand that a resolution is no good unless we can commit. In the coming months, let’s focus not on sticking to our New Year’s resolutions but rather on committing to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.