Jessica Yin explains
The first stage of the New Year’s Resolution syndrome is guilt.
Clutching an empty bottle of rosé and ashamedly staring at the greasy remains of a 12-inch pizza, you vow that this year, you will make a change. Starting tomorrow, you will swap out the diet coke for mineral water, the cheesy chips for kale.
The Internet and trending new year, new me hashtags enable this sudden obsession. Abuzz with delight, you order the yoga mat, book the zumba class, and throw away the last tub of Ben and Jerry’s with a dramatic flourish. The honeymoon period fills you with optimism and you feel silly for having waited this long to embark on this journey to a better body and mind.
This isn’t so hard, you tell everyone. A case of the confident chatterbox takes over and you start lecturing everyone you know about the chemistry of the protein shake and the biomechanics of the squat. You would know; you watched a YouTube video about it.
Then, the high of it starts to wear off and the pain in your knees overshadows the excitement of this novel crusade. The grumble in your belly intensifies as your body protests against this sudden revolution in living. The self-righteousness of your cause because less and less compelling, less and less capable of pulling you out of bed in the morning and away from the cookie jar at night. The status quo infects your body slowly, steadily seeping in through the tiny chinks in your resolve. It starts as one cheat day, which becomes a second, and before long the yoga mat is just a nice placemat for your spread of dominoes and late night snacks. The blender becomes a creator of less low-calorie fruit drinks and more boozy ice cream shakes. The allure and sexiness of a new trend slowly fades as normality takes over and before long, comfort and routine has killed the last remnants of your January resolve and it becomes something your friends tease you about over sugary cocktails and bar snacks. And those of us who have always gone on morning runs sip our waters, plug in our headphones, and keep on going.
Election season often feels like those early weeks of January. People who have been politically dormant for years suddenly awaken to realize that the world is not a fair place and there is room for change and improvement in the status quo. With childish energy and naïve fervor, they take to social media to talk like experts about complex social and economic issues because trust them; they’ve watched a documentary about it. With the same self-congratulatory air of a recent exercise convert, they buy the merchandise and flaunt their support for Bernie, Hillary or god forbid, Donald Trump with that perfect Instagram photo and witty caption.
Everyone wants to showcase how knowledgeable they are, show-off how involved they are, and for a time, perhaps they do believe in the cause and their capacity to make a difference. But change is not instantaneous and it is not easy. Slowly, one by one, they become dissatisfied with how mundane a revolution can be. It is less dramatic speeches and mike drops, more phone calls and carefully crafted Facebook posts. Challenging decades of social tradition and ingrained civil structures does not happen with short bursts of concentrated energy; it is made or broken in those moments when we feel it would be easier to give up and simply continue doing what we’ve always done.
The reason things as they’ve always been prevails is because change requires a persistent push for something different. It is a daily sacrifice, a test of determination and stamina. Change is not a sexy fad and you can’t treat it like something you’ll attempt before slowly allowing yourself to relax back into your normal routine. The people effected by the inequalities and the broken systems you’re trying to fix don’t have the luxury of forgetting about the problem: they are the ones hurt by this short-term commitment to change that falters when perseverance is needed the most.
A movement cannot end when the candidate is elected: the momentum has to carry forwards to the daily political battle to pass legislation and create the political and social environment for the progress we all believed in during the bright light of the election circuit. Traditional forces win not through some fast, efficient offensive, but simply by relying on how difficult it is to plow through all the distractions, obstacles, and responsibilities of daily life with an intact sense of political awareness.
Those who are truly committed to making a change, those who ring the doorbells and email the petitions: they are the ones that have to carry on when the tide of enthusiasm dies down by February and everyone returns to life as they’ve always lived it. They wait for the runners that stick it out, the ones that peel themselves out of bed every morning despite the aches and pains. They look for the ones that are quiet about their dedication, that stick to sit-ups over nachos with little fanfare or desire for recognition.
And in the early morning light, when the New Year newcomers have given into the snooze button, they start off on the daily jog, knowing that change is a marathon. Change is something you stick with even when it gets hard and not everyone is doing it with you anymore. Change cannot happen if we treat it like a New Year’s resolution, made to be abandoned when temptation for an easier route calls out.