Introspection and New Year's Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions seem to be ineffective. They rarely work, and the goals we set tend to wither away a few weeks into the new year. Instead of being Resolutions, they might more aptly be described as self-delusional, wishful thinking social phenomena.

Still, New Year’s Resolutions do have value: Introspection. Let’s explore what that means.

Introspection is the reason why journaling and meditation can have such a big impact on one’s behaviour. The reason we struggle with procrastination, or engage in otherwise self-destructive behaviour, is a failure of self-regulation. Even though an action is clearly bad, like playing video games for hours when we have a deadline looming, we still do it. To our own detriment! Note that, when engaging in self-destructive behaviour, we often don't even really enjoy it - the anxiety of knowing we are procrastinating on a deadline is constantly there. It's not a joyful thing. It's more like driving a car that is headed for a cliff, but you're powerless to turn the wheel.

Ignoring other complex factors that can lead to a failure in self-regulation (emotion being a large one), introspection is valuable because it trains us in detecting negative behaviour patterns. By engaging in self-reflection, we are processing the past and highlighting negative (and positive) outcomes and what led to them. It is sort of like labelling your dataset in Machine Learning.

It’s also interesting to look at some of the current philosophical discourse here: arguably what makes us human and conscious, and not just biological automata, is the ability to self-reflect and introspect. Consciousness is weird and we don't really understand it, but there's an argument to be made that it somehow emerges from this constant computation of self-evaluation that's going on in our head.

Journalling is a deliberate expression of this process. It helps us be conscious of ourselves, and it helps us keep the patterns to watch out for at the top of our mind. I have struggled for years with procrastinating on my goals and tried many many things, and few of them have had as large of an impact as just writing about my day. Try it.

New Year's Resolutions are almost never kept. But they're fun to explore, and they are a good exercise in introspection.

Happy 2023!