The New Year effect

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Making changes in your life because it’s January 1st seems arbitrary and forced, which may be why it usually doesn’t work. I don’t set goals or make decisions according to the calendar. But this month I’ve noticed a spillover effect from people who do, and I’ve realized that maybe the en masse resolution-making that happens in January is a good thing, because it can give a boost to the un-resolute.

I go through many periods of personal reflection when I make what you might call resolutions; they just never happen to be on January 1. My last such renaissance was in the fall, and I did some soul-searching and a little goal-setting. However, many of my goals did not have much success until this month, when being on the periphery of the resolution-making world has given them greater momentum.

Here are a few of my goals that have seen a resurgence thanks to the New Year effect:

  • In the fall I set out to make my Meetup group more active. I put more events on the calendar, found better meeting locations and tried to get more participation from members. It didn’t work. But now it’s January, when a lot of people join Meetup groups because they’ve resolved to become more socially active. So I’ve gotten several new members and increased interest in events this month.
  • I started doing yoga a few months ago. I really like it, but I wasn’t motivated to practice consistently. This month I’ve been doing yoga every day with Yoga Revolution, a 31-day program that only exists because it’s January and it’s the time of year when the most people start doing yoga. Somehow, having a current program to follow and knowing that a lot of other people are doing the same thing makes it easier to stick with every day.
  • In October I decided to get serious about making friends because since I moved to Arizona, I haven’t had anyone to talk to or spend time with besides my husband. I tried a few different things, but the problem is that Fall, the end of the calendar year, is the worst time to make new friends. Everyone is busy, many workplaces are heading into a busy season, and people are gearing up for the holidays and focusing on their own families. But come January, after the busyness has settled down and everyone has spent the holidays visiting relatives and old acquaintances they don’t actually like, a lot of people resolve to make new friends. I’ve met a lot of new potential friends recently.

I still think that New Year’s resolutions are dumb, but I’m glad that other people make them so I can benefit.

Ask for Dr. Nguyen

I’ve seen a lot of doctors in the past year, and I’ve noticed a pattern whenever I make an appointment at a new medical practice. If the practice has multiple doctors, they ask if I have a preference for who I want to see, and I usually say no preference and ask for the first available appointment. The first available appointment is always with the doctor who has the most difficult-to-pronounce name.

Among high-demand specialists, even within the same practice, there can be a huge difference in how long you have to wait to get an appointment as a new patient. I’ve called practices where the soonest available appointment with Dr. Richards is in a month and a half, while Dr. Nguyen is available next week.

It makes sense that when most patients call to make an appointment with a new doctor, they request one with a name they can pronounce, even if they know nothing about any of the doctors in the practice. If they were referred to a specific doctor, people are more likely to recommend a doctor whose name they can easily pronounce. There’s probably a positive feedback cycle that develops: if someone picks a name at random, they are more likely to choose one they can pronounce, and if they have a good experience with that doctor, they are more likely to write good Yelp reviews and recommend her to others. New patients who request an appointment with Dr. Jones may even think that the harder it is to get an appointment with him, the better he must be.

All this has been to my advantage. I don’t put much stock in Yelp reviews or patient recommendations when choosing a doctor, so I always find the soonest available one. And I’ve almost always had excellent experiences with them. In fact, my experiences with doctors with difficult-to-pronounce names have been a lot better than my experiences with doctors overall.

Maybe it’s because the doctors I’ve seen are more likely to be Asian women, who I usually feel more comfortable with– but not always. (I think name pronounceability is a better predictor of my experience with a doctor than race or gender.) Or maybe people with more interesting names have quirkier personalities that I have a better time communicating with. Or it might be that doctors with difficult-to-pronounce names are better because they’ve had to work harder to compensate for their name handicap. Or maybe I just like them because I also have a hard-to-pronounce last name.

What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker

2016 was the worst year of my adult life. It started with moving to a new state while I was still recovering from the birth of my second child. Two days after we arrived in Arizona, my newborn baby got very sick and spent a week in the hospital. Then I suffered through several difficult illnesses of my own, the last of which included a two-month wait to have a tumor biopsied. The bad things kept coming and the year kept going.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is one of the things people say to try to make sense of hardship when they really don’t know how to respond. I’m not sure what it’s actually supposed to mean. Maybe it means that hard times make you realize that you’re stronger than you thought, or that after going through hard times, you develop the skills to survive more hard times in the future. Neither has been true for me.

I’ve gone through plenty of hard times throughout my life, and I feel that each difficult thing I go through makes me weaker, not stronger. It makes me realize that I am not as strong as I thought I was, and it makes me even less tolerant of going through more hard times in the future. 

Many people say they are actually glad to have experienced difficulties because it made them stronger. But that is usually only said in hindsight, after a trial is over and only if they’ve gained something more valuable than what they lost. They may have lost security but gained insight, lost health but gained love and support from others, or lost temporary happiness but gained new knowledge and skills. In my experience though, there may be things gained through suffering, but not nearly enough to make what was lost worth it.

I hoped that once I made it through this crappy year and some of the crappy things that happened, I would have gained some perspective or derived some meaning from it, but I don’t think there is any to be found. I’m sure it would be easier if I believed that everything happens for a reason, but I don’t, and I don’t believe that there is always something to be learned. Sometimes life just sucks.