Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government


New Year, New Me

Res Publica

August 2014

by John Osborne

Every day, most people try their best not to fail at whatever task they intend to do. Some people give it their all in school while others try to succeed while working. The average person does not go into their day with the goal of failing or accepting that failure is expected of them. So why do we encourage and accept institutions which encourage failure? We have all heard that one is what they do repeatedly, and yet we still accept common ideas that go against this precept.

Aristotle comes to the conclusion that one’s qualities are built-up over time through persistence, practice, and completion of a task repeatedly. Early in the year, every year, there is a period in which people make various resolutions: to lose weight, to eat healthy, to be more patient. All of these goals are positive attributes to aim for during the next year, but typically people fail to attain to these goals for more than a few months, much less the entire year. These goals could all be labeled as directing one toward “excellence” but more often than not, people fail. Year after year passes and for many, every single New Year’s resolution has been broken, forgotten, or lessened to better fit one’s life; in a word: failed. People come to the gym to get into shape, yet a month later they become too busy, too tired, or too disheartened with their lack of results and stop attending. Those who wish to become more patient soon become frustrated in traffic, uneasy at the idea of having to wait at all in the express lane at the grocery store, and deeply upset with their children who did not do their chores when instructed to; their attempt at patience has done one thing: fail. The person who wishes to eat healthy soon finds that “healthy” is more easily defined as mostly healthy. First this person finds that free cake in the office is more difficult to turndown than originally expected. Then this person finds that “healthy” food is much more expensive than what they are accustomed to paying, so they make an internal pact to eat less. Before this person knows it, they are soon sitting down to watch Netflix and eat an entire bag of Easter jellybeans; this person has once again failed to complete their New Year’s resolution. Surely, this continued failure would have some impact on the person who experiences it time and time again.

If it is true that we are what we repeatedly do, the person who makes an attempt at keeping a resolution and fails again and again is training themselves to fail even more. If greatness is able to be practiced and habituated, it seems that failure would also be able to be practiced, habituated, and learned. If failure is truly meaningful to one’s life, it should be avoided, but this does not seem to be practiced by a huge amount of the population, especially where resolutions are concerned. Perhaps failing to stay true to a New Year’s resolution is not deemed as a true failure, but is portrayed as being perfectly acceptable and even expected. These short-lived “life changing” resolutions may lead to a short period of positive change in one’s life, but if the resolution is failed, on a larger scale, one is trained to continue failure in all aspects of life. In attempting to make improvements in one’s life, those who undertake and then fail at keeping a New Year’s resolution are actually helping to normalize failure and grow accustomed to defeat. By the logic presented by Aristotle, we can determine that an action repeated again and again which leads to failure will continue to lead one down a path of enduring failure.

Becoming accustomed to failure is the root cause of future failure, so removing year-long goals as the only standard to measure success would help those attempting to make positive and lasting changes in their lives. Given that the likelihood of failure is so great for those who set a goal lasting the length of a year, it appears that perhaps, smaller, narrow-scoped goals are a better means of obtaining excellence. The condition of a person’s life and the way they conduct it is so drastically different from the ideal that they wish to achieve, the idea of a New Year’s resolution bridging this gap is simply absurd. Success in the selected area is something that the resolution maker is not accustomed to, having rarely, if ever, achieved success. If any excellence is to be achieved, it will rarely be done via the formation of a New Year’s resolution. Smaller goals, goals which are obtainable, appear to be the Aristotelian method for reaching the overall end of excellence. These smaller goals allow for a steady stream of success which can contribute to larger goals of excellence. Were one to incorporate consistent victories into their life, they would become much more accustomed to it, especially when it comes to larger areas in life. Incorporating achievable goals towards greatness appears to be a very important part of achieving excellence, but perhaps not the only portion worthy of consideration.

Changing for a short amount of time when desiring long-term change in life does not make one excellent, but rather creates a trend of failure. The expectation to do so leads to an overall repetition of failure. Life happens and life kills resolutions, so we should stop training in failure and forsake the use of resolutions. This principle can and should be applied to all aspects of life. No matter what goal one is working towards, in a career, in home life, or in hobbies, failure in the minute leads to failure in the major and this should be avoided.

John Osborne is a junior from Greenwich, Ohio majoring in History and Political Science.