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Opinion: New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be a joke

If a small, lifelong nerd like me can start kickboxing, you can pick up a new habit too

We’ve entered that classic time of year when scores of people declare they’re going to change their lives somehow. Eating less dessert, drinking less alcohol, working out more (or at all)... the examples are endless. 

Yet, much like baby sea turtles labouring daringly towards the ocean, most New Year’s resolutions don’t last. They meet a pitiful end weeks or even days after they were first made, snapped up by the distractions of life or stonewalled by a waning sense of motivation. That’s human nature, for you. 

Finding comfort within our old habits is easy, while forging new habits is hard. 

This reality, in turn, creates a palpable sense of cynicism around the idea of a “New Year’s resolution.” Experienced gym-goers roll their eyes at the sight of neophytes using their favourite machines, telling themselves they won’t have to put up with these rookies for long. People don’t always respond to your aspirations with support: some might be overtly dismissive, while others may express skepticism behind your back. 

Such feelings are understandable, but perhaps they shouldn’t be our knee-jerk or dominant reaction when someone—especially a friend or family member—tells us about their newfound goal. That’s because some resolutions actually work out, if they are approached wisely. 

Take myself, for example. I’ve always had an inconsistent relationship with fitness, because I’ve never been an athlete and I never truly liked exercise. Going to the gym to do repetitive movements by myself is not appealing, and there are many things I’d rather spend time on. Nonetheless, I realized a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy, so I began to seek out a new sport—something that would get my heart rate up whilst being at least somewhat fun.

So I took up kickboxing. (Not cardio kickboxing, but the actual martial art itself). 

As a sports fan, kickboxing and MMA fall well within my purview of interests. I’ve long admired the combat and athletic abilities of professional fighters, for example: the technical striking mastery of Rico Verhoeven, the one-punch knockout power of Francis Ngannou, or the immaculately well-rounded skills Georges St. Pierre displayed throughout his Hall of Fame career. It was my hope to translate this theoretical interest into practical action. 

I walked into my first trial class at Mountain Jiu-Jitsu in September, so this isn’t technically a New Year’s resolution. It is, however, something I’ve remained consistent with, and something I intend to keep training in. 

As an aside: if I ever have kids, the one activity I would for sure enrol them in is martial arts. Every sport has the potential to develop strong and healthy people, but I think martial arts are unique in their ability to instil discipline, self-control, and confidence in the right things for the right reasons. There are many misconceptions about fighting, and learning to debunk those myths while building oneself up physically and mentally is a valuable process. 

I’ve always been the smallest guy in any given room, and a man like St. Pierre has more athletic talent in one finger than I have in my whole body. Yet four-odd months of beginner kickboxing classes have already made me more confident and physically fit than before. I’ve a long way to go, but at least I started. 

And that’s the thing about trying to pick up a new habit: measured and realistic wins the day. Lots of folks make the mistake of setting needlessly lofty goals without achievable milestones to get them there, which is why many New Year’s resolutions fail. I didn’t expect to transform into an action hero or make my pro kickboxing debut within a year—instead I just committed to two classes per week. As my skills grow, so too does my enjoyment of the sport. 

That brings me to my last point: find what works for you. Yes, there are some things in life we have to do, but there are also multiple ways to reach the same endpoint. Skiing is great for many (and I might still try it), but I didn’t want to just pick up an activity because everyone else likes it. Rather, I wanted to do something I found interesting, and my only competition is myself. 

There are definitely foolish ways to go about a New Year’s resolution, but there are also wise ways that bring positive change. Let’s focus on the latter in 2024.