On December 24, 2022, I retrieved a neon green sticky note to engage in an annual tradition of self-renewal: setting new year resolutions. I jotted down more than two dozen objectives, ranging from “switch to an old flip phone,” to “become an optimist.” The green Post-it rested on my wall as I continued the year with a smartphone and the same old gloom-ridden attitude toward most happenings.

It is December 8, 2023. Even with some wiggle room, I have achieved only about six out of the twenty-six resolutions I listed in the prior year. As holiday lights get hung and families gather and 2024 draws dangerously close, the neon green on my wall now sticks out like a sore thumb. It seems that I can only renew my intentions—to sleep earlier, to know my Latin endings, and to dump my smartphone and be an optimist—for the following year.

I am not alone in my twenty failures. According to U.S News and World Report, 80% of Americans abandon their resolutions by mid-February. No one, really, gets to be their new self, at least not the one they envision. Yet, within my bountiful failures, I have found that the very thing lying at the crux of my inability to achieve renewal may be the practice of resolution-making itself.

At its core, resolutions ask us to break down our less palatable selves in hopes of reconstructing something a cut above. I wish to sleep earlier to counteract the perennial night owl within me that causes drowsy mornings. I want to dump my smartphone because YouTube reels are ruining my attention span. In other words, I list resolutions precisely to resolve—to fix—but not to improve. It is due to a dislike towards my own pessimism that I wish to transform into Little Miss Sunshine. My motivation for an actual, unceasing flow of optimism toward life, however, runs short.

This need to fix a glass-half-empty attitude implies that there is something wrong with the attitude in the first place. While I will admit that pessimism is not conducive to spreading positivity or longevity, a healthy dose of negative (realistic!) thinking does not seem all bad. The trait feels intuitive to me. Yet, my pithy resolution tells me that I need to eradicate it. That feels hard. The resolution also suggests I need to turn myself around and become someone on the opposite end of the “half full, half empty” spectrum. That feels harder. So, before I even got to mine out the hidden optimist within me, the pessimist that is me already took over and surrendered to the difficulty—or impossibility—of a complete renovation of my life and character.

So concludes the tale of my one out of twenty failures. The nineteen others all stand parallel to it. Within them, my need to erase less agreeable aspects of myself far outshined my will to improve. In other words, the addition of “optimism” or “flip phone” always required subtraction first. But the resolutions themselves did not tell me that. Along with my fellow 80% of failed resolvers, we asked for the so-called failures and the grief that arrives with them through imposing nuance-lacking and often impractical wishes upon ourselves. By lamenting our failures to resolve, we are lamenting our inability to become someone else. But real change requires much more from us than idolizing an ideal, and our better (more accurately—growing) self manifests through each action and word, in every second, just as long as you are willing to look for it.

So, as the new year approaches, give your resolutions another name (I am opting for “Extra Undertakings For an Extra Stressful Year”). Make the list a bit shorter, a bit more specific, and unearth your pessimistic-thinking prowess to make them a bit more realistic. Happy 2024.