February 3, 2018
by Aloysius Wong
Now that New Year’s celebrations are over, it’s time to get down to business—new body, higher marks, sounder mind. . . right?
Every year we make New Year’s resolutions to better ourselves, but have we ever taken the time to ask why we make them, or if we even should? It’s almost always the same story: we make promises we know we can’t keep.
Our friends, family, and idols all make resolutions, so we feel pressured to do the same, though we may not be very serious about our resolutions. It’s this kind of haphazard goal-setting that sets us up for failure.
Perhaps that isn’t the only issue with New Year’s resolutions. We not only feel obligated to make resolutions in the first place, but we also tend to choose the same resolutions every year. We all know the popular resolutions: lose 20 pounds, get a 4.0 GPA, sleep longer, work out more—the list goes on. They’re so commonplace that they lose their personal meaning for us.
But let’s consider one example that matters to us as students: grades. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that UofT is a radically different environment from high school. I distinctly remember being told numerous times during frosh week to expect our grades to drop. In fact, it started to piss me off by the end—who were they to tell me how well I was going to do? I was near the top of my graduating class, small though it was, and I thought that there was no reason to lower my expectations before I even tried.
However, I quickly came to see what people meant. In this environment, some will succeed, most will pass, and others will fail, and at the beginning of first year, many people are not accustomed to failure. My peers expected just as much from themselves as I did, but not everyone’s expectations could be met.
When people compare grades, they create a toxic culture of competition. Every grade lower than yours making you feel a little better about yourself, and every higher one, a little more inadequate. To cope with these feelings of inadequacy, people blame their professors or their TAs, but it seems that few choose to accept themselves and the results they produce.
But why shouldn’t we accept ourselves for who we are? Sure, there are some benefits to comparing ourselves to others; at first, it helps to situate us in a large and isolating environment. In the long run, though, it becomes detrimental. We all know someone who doesn’t care what grade they get as long as they pass, and someone else for whom anything under 100% just doesn’t cut it.
Perhaps instead of holding ourselves to the standards of others and of societal self-improvement, we could resolve to be more self-accepting. As reported in a New York Times article, research has shown that self-compassion helps people recognize and accept their shortcomings. Self-compassionate people—in contrast to self-confident (and often overconfident) people—suffer less from worrying about others’ opinions. More importantly, this higher level of self-acceptance allows people to be more honest with themselves, allowing them to recognize and embrace themselves for their strengths and weaknesses. And this deeper level of self-awareness may actually help us better achieve our goals.
This involves setting goals that are actually significant to us, and persuading our inner voice to be more positive. If we do this, then maybe this year’s story will be different. This year—no matter how much or how little we may change—we can strive to become a little happier as we are.