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The arrival of a New Year is often an occasion for reflection on our lives, evaluating how well we have achieved our personal goals in the preceding year and thinking about our aspirations for the coming year.  We might make New Year resolutions enthusiastically, or refuse to do so on the grounds that we are unlikely to keep to them for very long. 

It seems to me that many New Year resolutions are based on an ideology of self-discipline, self-denial, or even self-punishment.  Losing weight, stopping smoking, reducing drinking…. Any of these might be a good thing to do for the sake of your health and well-being, but it is extremely difficult to maintain your resolve if it is based only on a sense of compelling yourself to go without something which you enjoy.  An alternative approach to New Year resolutions which you will find in many self-help books or websites, is to identify things which you would like to do in the next year, new experiences which you would like to encounter.  So this might lead you to think of skills to learn, courses to take, places to visit, and other pleasurable activities.  That certainly sounds more enjoyable and instead of self-denial, it offers self-nurture and self-development. But if it leads just to accruing a collection of experiences, pleasures, activities, then does this become merely self-indulgence? Self-development surely involves an element of self-discipline, of practising a skill or establishing a routine, as well as opening ourselves to pleasurable experiences.

Whether you choose to emphasise self-discipline or self-development, it seems to me, though, that any personal resolution needs to be set in the context of your whole life, your relationships, your work projects, and at the centre of it all, your sense of purpose in life.  This is the point of the period of reflection as the old year dies and the new year is born.  It is the opportunity to take stock of ourselves and our lives, to question and re-affirm our values and priorities, to set new aims or confirm our current direction, to remind ourselves of what really matters to us.  Above all, the New Year is an invitation to be truthful with ourselves about who we are and where we are going.  So the value of New Year resolutions lies less in the challenge of disciplining ourselves to change our habits or the optimism of promising ourselves new forms of enjoyment, but rather in the resolve to commit ourselves to living truthfully.