Fight Your New Year’s Resolution like a War

Jayna Rohslau, ‘22

January 2019

Sun Tzu was a military strategist from 545 BC, most famous for writing “The Art of War,” which as the name entails, is not about dancing but rather, the art of fighting in a war.  As the author found out, it also has some unexpected tips on modern-day living.

With the dawning of the new year, expectations were at an all-time high. “This is it. This is gonna be the year,” many Americans told themselves in their daily bathroom-mirror monologues.  This would not be yet another year of monotony and unfulfilling work, oh no. “This is the year I want to reduce my carbon footprint,” said the Uber drivers, giving the stink-eye to their more sustainable Lyft counterparts. “This is the year I think I’ll find true love,” said the three-time divorcees. “This is the year I’d like to BRANCH out,” said the trees. As they made their new year’s resolutions, people (and plants) seemed fully prepared to broaden their horizons and come out of their comfort zones.  2019, they said dreamily, practically bursting with hope for the future.

The same applied to students at BHSEC, as luck would have it, many students having made resolutions of their own back at the beginning of January. And while none of them were exactly unexpected, several seemed pretty extreme in their own right. “I guess I’d like to stop procrastinating,” said Adrian Vecchio, a gold medalist in said procrastination. “I need to use my phone less,” admitted a sheepish student who asked to not be named. “I just want to beat Sophie Van Straten at arm wrestling,” said a third, “Then I’ll be able to beat Kaden and Dario, basically everybody.” (This third resolution doesn’t sound ambitious until you consider the respective upper-body strengths of the students involved.  Sorry, Eamon)

When you first hear this, it sounds pretty good: people stepping outside of their comfort zones; good for them. But so far, while they have made resolutions it doesn’t seem that most have gone so far as to actually follow them. Adrian Vecchio is still procrastinating, our anonymous student is still on her phone, and from what I can see Eamon Smithsimon doesn’t seem poised to beat Sophie Van Straten at arm-wrestling any time soon. And even outside of BHSEC: how many Uber drivers are reducing their carbon footprint by driving less? How many three-time divorcees have met their true loves? How many trees have grown branches? With the exception of the tree’s made-up resolution, I would have to say, very few indeed.  

So what is at fault for these failures? There is a multitude of answers to this question: too little time has passed for there to be a change, too much of a fixed mindset, too little upper body strength. And to a certain extent, it’s true: all these reasons are at fault for hindering the progress of resolutions. But it’s more than that; it has to be. Contrary to popular belief, procrastination is a habit and not a disease, and habits can be broken. The same applies to a phone addiction, which while hard to combat, is not in fact as dangerous as say, an addiction to cigarettes. And according to wikihow, you can increase your upper body strength by doing bench presses (though I wouldn’t know). Basically, while these new year’s resolutions may seem hard to fulfill, they are all actually within reach.

The problem is that we’re just looking at them the wrong way.  “I guess I’d like to stop procrastinating,” was the resolution made by Adrian Vecchio. “I guess.” This suggests a passive attitude towards his new year’s resolution, a lack of dedication. Whether it happens or not, it indicates, he’ll be okay with the outcome. This is not the way to approach a serious goal! According to Sun Tzu, “he will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks,” meaning in Adrian’s case that only when he devotes his energy and time (“spirit”) to his resolution will he be able to stop procrastinating.

Sun Tzu has many other helpful bits of advice when it comes to following one’s resolutions.  He was a Chinese general and military strategist who lived from 545-470 BC, but from the quality of his advice you would think he lived in the modern day: it’s absolutely timeless. For instance, he says in his famous book The Art of War that “the greatest victory requires no battle.” The new year’s resolution of an unnamed student was to be on her phone less; the answer is quite simply to put her phone down. Sun Tzu is saying that no grand war must be fought to win this battle, only a bit of thought. Brilliant! And in the case of the arm-wrestling resolution, “appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”  So essentially, pretend you are losing and then surprise your opponent at the last moment with a sudden burst of strength.
All of that being said, it’s only the beginning of the year, and there is still time to follow through on your new year’s resolution regardless of whether you take Sun Tzu’s advice to heart or not. Still, don’t treat your new year’s resolution as insignificant. Treat it as a war, a war to be won. Only then shall you emerge victorious.

And remember, “there is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare,” which obviously means: you should follow your new year’s resolution. Now.