“Self-improvement” is a tricky framework for resolutions. We take the phrase for granted, but what is it really saying? That changing a lifestyle habit improves your very self? That implies moral value to your choices, labelling some habits intrinsically “good” and others “bad”. This ends up at the idea that your lifestyle choices affect your inherent worth and value as a person. And honestly, that sucks.
Photo: Best Running
We all have plenty of not-ideal habits. We leave dishes in the sink, we don’t eat our vegetables, we waste time on our phones. But these habits are bad because they have bad effects — bugs in the kitchen, vitamin deficiency, crippling ennui. Similarly, good habits have good results: keeping your home tidy might make you feel calm, or exercising helps alleviate your back pain or anxiety.
But these habits don’t have moral value. And they don’t determine is your worth as a human being.
So as we go into the new year, resolutions a’blazing, here’s a challenge: Can you make a resolution without moralising? Is it possible to want to change yourself without believing that pre-change you is bad? (Will you still want to follow through on your resolution if you accept the fact that it won’t make you a better person?)
Instead of labelling a change as fundamentally good, figure out the practical benefit. This will, first of all, help inspire you to stick with the change, even if it’s difficult. But it will also soften the blow when you almost inevitably slip up. A person who eats Cheetos isn’t morally inferior to a person who snacks on carrot sticks, they just live different lives.
If you can’t figure out the practical benefit of a resolution you want to make, that’s a signal to step back and think about if your resolution is really valuable to you. Weight loss is a common culprit here — we’re so trained to think that we need to be thinner that we often don’t think about why. (Which means we often feel like we ought to be thinner when… maybe it doesn’t matter.)
And when we moralise what should be neutral personal lifestyle choices, we put our self-worth on the chopping block.
Bad habits already make you feel bad with their negative effects — the stomach ache from junk food, your smoker’s cough, overdraft anxiety, whatever it is. You don’t have to make them referenda on your worth as a person at the same time.