New Year’s resolutions are almost as popular as the celebration of the New Year itself. Every year, millions of people across the globe decide to make a change in their lives.
Maybe it’s they want to change their diet. Maybe they want to spend more time in the gym, or maybe it’s something as simple as writing 500 words a day. Whatever the resolution, they all have on thing in common: they all start on January 1.
If you’ve not already, the question you should be asking is why wait until an arbitrary date to make a change in your life? Why not make the change earlier? Why do you need to wait for the completion of the Earth’s journey around the sun before you make a change in your life?
I don’t have the answer to that question. Society dictates that this is a time when people should change their habits and many people play along. They don’t realise that they are free to make these changes at any point. Nothing is holding them back except for themselves.
In one study, less than 10% of people kept their resolutions for more than a few months. This was backed up by a BUPA poll in the UK, which found that 74% of the people involved failed to make their resolution last a year.
What’s the reason for this? One hypothesis is that it might be down to false hope syndrome. People tend to overestimate how hard, or difficult it might be to change their habits. Once they encounter some friction, rather than sticking with it and getting over the hump, they quit.
This would explain why the number of people who quit on their New Year resolutions is so high. If the Greek philosopher Epictetus, whose quote is the title of the article, were alive today, he’d likely find the concept of New Year resolutions odd.
What his quote is implying is that we have the power to change our lives now. We can make these changes today. We don’t need to wait for an arbitrary date, or when society deems it acceptable to make a change. You can do it whenever you want.
Don’t play the waiting game
Not everyone that starts a New Year’s resolution waits until that specific day to make a change, but many people do. It’s an odd concept that the changing of a year means you should make a change yourself. What’s wrong with the other 364 days of the year?
This is the crux of Epictetus’ quote. His life is a testament to why waiting to make a change is a bad idea. He was born a slave, his name in Greek means gained or acquired. Following the death of Nero, he was able to gain his freedom and began to teach philosophy in Rome.
His life is poignant because Epictetus was born into unfavourable circumstances. Thankfully, most of us alive today are unlikely to be born into slavery. It’s hard to imagine what this must have been like. That Epictetus didn’t let his circumstances define his character is a testament to him.
The quote has more resonance because of this. Epictetus did not wait until he was granted his freedom to better himself. He did that while he was still a slave. He studied Stoic philosophy under Musonius Rufus with the blessing of his wealthy owner. Had he not pushed for this, he could have remained in the circumstances he found himself in for the rest of his life.
Deep down, most of us know what is best for wellbeing. Epictetus will have known that becoming educated and gaining his freedom was in his best interest. Likewise, when we devise our resolutions, we know that they are beneficial.
The problem is we are often reluctant to go ahead and make those changes. Imagine a man about to do a bungy jump. He stands on the edge of the ledge, with a huge drop beneath him. He’s wanted to do a bungy jump for a while, but now that the time has come to jump, he’s paralysed with fear.
His mind is saying jump but his body is saying no. In a situation like this, all he needs is a little push to turn inaction into action. That’s how many of us lead our lives. Often, we know a long time before we make a change that one is needed, yet we put it off.
We reason that it can wait a bit longer. We tell ourselves that the time isn’t right. Or we concoct some flimsy excuse as a way of getting out of making an uncomfortable change.
This might sound familiar, it does to me. Most of the time, it’s down to one factor, we’re just too comfortable.
Escape from the zone that is holding you back
We’ve all been in situations where we know that change is necessary, yet the thought of making a change is often more painful than the actual change itself.
When this occurs, you’re stuck inside what’s referred to as the comfort zone. Inside the zone, things are nice and comfortable. We can go about our lives with a minimum of fuss and almost zero pain. But is this really living?
Pain is a part of life, there’s no getting away from that. Whether we like it or not, life is uncomfortable and we have to do things we’d rather not. When you’re stuck inside you comfort zone you become accustomed to the way things are. Any change to that is painful and perilous.
Maybe the idea of running a mile every day makes you feel sick, or travelling to a foreign country by yourself seems risky. No matter how much we’d love to do these things, the perceived pain of getting started outweighs the long-term benefits of your action.
Life is full of possibilities, but if you run from them instead of towards them, you’ll never get anywhere. You’ll look back a year later and release that you’ve been standing still when the world around has been moving forward.
This is the essence of Epictetus’ quote. His take on stoicism is that there are plenty of things we can’t control, but there are certain things that we do. One of these is the quality of the life we lead. The decisions we make are in our own hands.
You don’t need an arbitrary date to make a change. You don’t need the blessing of society. You don’t need me to tell you either. All you need is to realise that you can make the changes you want, now. If you want to be a better version of yourself, you can.
The power is in your hands. The longer you put things off, the harder it becomes to take action and make a meaningful change in your life.
The truth is that we all possess the power to change our lives today. There is no better time than now to make a change. The uncertainty and shortness of life make it essential that you take action while you can.
As we have seen this year, the world can throw a curveball your way and upend your whole life. It’s tempting to believe there is a perfect moment we can wait to make a change. It’s a deception.
There is no better time than now to make the change you desire. You don’t need to wait until New Year, you can do it today. Like a deadline that won’t flinch, it’s better to face the music, rather than wish it would stop.
As Epictetus implores, life is happening now, in this very moment. If change is what we want, why wait? His own words lay it out perfectly.
“From now on, then, resolve to live as a grown-up who is making progress, and make whatever you think best a law that you never set aside. And whenever you encounter anything that is difficult or pleasurable, or highly or lowly regarded, remember that the contest is now: you are at the Olympic Games, you cannot wait any longer, and that your progress is wrecked or preserved by a single day and a single event.”