Editor's Letter Insights

I’m Ambivalent About New Year’s Day

Written by Sam Wallace

The late Italian Marxist philosopher and writer Antonio Gramsci once wrote a column with the self-explanatory title “I Hate New Year’s Day.” In it, he argued that New Year’s gives us a false sense of renewal, that it’s an obstacle that prevents us “from seeing that history continues to unfold along the same fundamental unchanging line.” He wrote, “I would like every hour of my life to be new, though connected to the ones that have passed,” and that he found the holiday and its traditions to be no less than nauseating.

Whatever your politics, you should go find the piece online for a chuckle at his apparently bottomless loathing for a fairly innocent day of the year. To me, his revulsion to New Year’s seems extreme, and an indication that maybe he needed to get outside for a walk along the Tiber more often. But as over-the-top as his opinion might feel, I can’t completely dismiss it.

The growing consensus among psychologists (confirmed by my own personal experience) is that New Year’s resolutions almost never work. And yet, year after year, many or most of us feel motivated to set some new goals for ourselves, to better ourselves, to turn the proverbial ship around in whatever area of our lives we feel needs ship-turning. And then, year after year, many or most of us fail to meet our resolutions—often with incredible speed—and, as Gramsci wrote, “regret [our] irresolution.”

There are a lot of reasons why resolutions tend not to work: our goals are too big, too vague, and inadequately planned for. We focus on the end result, rather than the process. There’s a decent chance you have heard, in recent years, the term “atomic habits,” coined in the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. Another in the endless avalanche of self-help books, Clear argues that to adopt new habits, we need to think small (hence, “atomic”), attach them to existing habits (for example, “I will do my morning stretches after I drink my first cup of coffee”), and focus on the feeling of incorporating this new habit, rather than on whether or not we are achieving some desired ultimate outcome.

Aside from sharing some pearls of what may or may not be wisdom, it occurred to me that many embedded systems engineers are, at least in the workplace, probably well-versed in some equivalent version of atomic habits. (No, not because you’re working with small components.) I’ve read quite a few pieces, since taking the helm here at Circuit Cellar, that share a lesson learned from a mistake the author once made on a project. It would seem to me, a non-engineer, imperative that a team quickly learn their lesson from a mistake so as to avoid future disaster: “When we do X, we must remember to Y.” Granted, this kind of “new habit” has the benefit of multiple pairs eyes on the same problem. Even so, many years of this must instill in the average embedded engineer some sort of new-habit-making superpower, no?

I’d be curious to hear from you if this is true or not. In either case, I wish you the best of luck with whatever your New Year’s resolutions may be. As for myself, I’m thinking of resolving to not regret my irresolution, this time. Hopefully, I can stick to that one.

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PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • JANUARY #402 – Get a PDF of the issue

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Editor-in-Chief at KCK Media Corp.

Sam Wallace - became Circuit Cellar's  Editor-In-Chief in August 2022.
His experience in writing, editing, and teaching will provide a great perspective on the selection, presentation, and clarity of editorial content. The Circuit Cellar audience will benefit from his strong academic background encompassing a Master of Fine Arts in Writing and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with honors. His passion for learning and teaching is a great fit for Circuit Cellar's continuing mission of Inspiring the Evolution of Embedded Design.

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I’m Ambivalent About New Year’s Day

by Sam Wallace time to read: 2 min