The Skeptic’s Guide to New Year’s Resolutions
It’s that time of year again! Time to put together your New Year’s Resolutions and start thinking about what you want to do to be better, faster, stronger, cooler in 2012. How do we make good New Year’s resolutions? I was reading this article in Forbes which talks about the things to consider when actually compiling good resolutions and thought it would be fun to look up some of the most common resolutions that people usually make and put a skeptical twist on some old standards:
1. Get Organized – Most people want to get their houses, their offices, their garages organized. That sounds like a lot of work to me. Instead, why not get organized online? Set yourself up to be an online activist by getting involved with Web of Trust, Fishbarrel or Hypothes.is. Or just resolve to do little things like blogging smarter or updating Wikipedia. For lots of incredibly good, easy ideas, visit Skeptools: or follow @Krelnik (Tim Farley of What’s the Harm fame) for great ideas.
2. Volunteer/Help Others – In addition to taking care of yourself, New Year’s is the time to think about others and what you can do to make your little corner of the world a better place. And skeptics are no exception. Look around, check out what’s happening in your community and go out and do some local activism. I spent a lot of time this year thinking about activism and how to do it right. A big part of it involves researching your local area, regulations and local practitioners and finding something that needs to be done. Need some starter ideas? Check out the NCSE or Secular Coalition for America, both of which have ongoing action alerts for things you can do in your local area and federally.
3. Get Smart about your Spending – Everyone wants to be smarter about their finances, particularly in this economic climate. For skeptics, consider helping out your favorite national skeptical org: JREF, Center for Inquiry, Secular Coalition for America the Secular Student Alliance and others are always looking for donations, which are tax-deductible and also probably a smarter way to spend your money than that $5 latte at Starbucks. (That’s a thing, right? I don’t drink coffee…)
4. Spend More Time with Family & Friends – It’s important to remember that New Year’s Resolutions are about YOU. So do something for yourself – spend time with the people who matter to you. Resolve to go to a skeptical convention. Whether it’s a big one like The Amaz!ng Meeting, a smaller local event like Skepticamp or a con within a con like Skeptrack at Dragon*Con or SkepchickCon at CONVergence, skeptical events allow you to renew and refresh yourself, learn something new and spend some time with skeptical friends and make new friends!
5. Learn Something New– People often want to expand their horizons in the New Year and luckily, this is easy for skeptics. Get involved and research a skeptical topic that is out of your normal wheelhouse. Do you normally stick to topics like alt-med and anti-vaccination? Check out a cryptozoology podcast or read a book about Nostradamus! Even if it’s not your primary interest, it’s always a good idea to expand your world a little and see what else is out there.
6. Get Fit/Lose Weight – Almost everyone wants to shed a few excess pounds for the upcoming year. For skeptics, I’d suggest shedding them metaphorically as well. Being a skeptic, particularly online, can create baggage in your life. Let go of that creationist on Facebook who just won’t listen to reason. Or, walk away from an argument that has devolved purely into semantics, even among your skeptical peers. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture and maybe you’ll get a better perspective on what you need to exercise your mind and tighten your grasp on the arguments and discussions at hand.
7. Drink Less– Oh, this is a tough one, isn’t it? It seems like we skeptics do our best work over a drink and good discussion. And I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you stop altogether. But resolve this year, to get out of the pub with your local group. You can increase your local membership by broadening the scope of what your group does. Hold Skeptics in the Park events so people with kids can get involved. Set up outings to local museums. And if you’re really adventurous, get your local group to take on some activism at the local level – see if you can work together to help the community you’re in.
8. Quit Smoking – For skeptics, I see this less as being about what you put in and out of your lungs and more about what you put into your mind and how you use that to put things out into the world. It’s easy to get ANGRY about bad information, fraud, hucksters and pseudo scientists who are causing real damage in the world. Stop fuming and do something about it. Do your research, use the resources you have and try to make a difference instead of just raging about it. And, sometimes, be aware that it’s important to understand what is possible and what isn’t. Sometimes, the right thing to do is walk away.
For many people, New Year’s represents a time to rethink, reevaluate and re-conceive who we are and what we do. But it’s also really just a relatively arbitrary way of breaking up the hours and minutes of our lives. We give it whatever meaning we choose. So don’t pick your resolutions arbitrarily. Before you decide on any of these (or none of these), understand what your ultimate goal is. Why are you making a resolution in the first place? How is this going to change the person that you are and is that change going to be for the better? Who are your allies and friends in making this change and how can they help and advise you on what makes sense to do next?
For everyone, the answer is going to be different. And remember to identify ways that you can measure your success so you can constantly tweak your plan over the course of the year to ensure your effectiveness.
Happy New Year, everyone, and Good Luck!