New Year's Resolutions For Stoics

Are annual rituals philosophical?

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

Do Stoics make New Year's resolutions?

There’s a good argument against doing so.

New Year's resolutions are a ritualized way to decide how to transform oneself in the future. Put bluntly, they are an excuse to procrastinate. 

If there’s a sense in which you should change, you should make that change now.

As Seneca quipped:

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.

On The Shortness of Life

We should hope that our vices don’t outlive us. To make sure they don’t, we cannot delay.

There’s some truth to this argument. Sometimes we use things like New Year's resolutions, “cheat days”, and the like to avoid changing now. Ideally, we’re all people who are always improving and never procrastinate.

However, this argument overlooks how useful it is to have ritualized ways to reflect on our lives. Especially for imperfect beings like us. 

Seneca advised the ritual of evening reviews. At the end of every day, simply review the day with an eye to what you did well and where you’ll improve.

We’re creatures of habit. Yes, we should build the character of someone who fixes problems without delay. Yet having a built-in schedule to step back, reflect, and then decide to change with firm resolve is a useful thing. Whether that looks like New Year's resolutions or a different system is up to you. 

🎯 Action

Review where you may be procrastinating changing for the better because you’ll do it later.

🎺 Apply Stoicism In 2024

Michael Tremblay and I running a live course this January!

It’s for anyone looking to seriously become more Stoic with others.

Have any questions about the course? Michael and I opened up our calendars – schedule a 1-1 with either of us here.

📰 Another take on New Years Resolutions from Gregory Sadler at Modern Stoicism:

Again, I’m going to say that in the case of some New Years resolutions, for some people, they’re probably better off breaking them. Then they can put those behind them, and if they’d like to make more reasonable commitments, they can start again from scratch.

🎥 A modern retelling of the myth of Echo and Narcissus:

I think it brings Seneca’s line about how procrastination “denies us the present by promising the future” to life.

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