In this Jan. 1, 2019, file photo a "Happy New Year" hat lies on the wet ground along with other items following the celebration in New York's Times Square. Credit: Tina Fineberg / AP

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I hate New Year’s resolutions, and never make them. Apparently, I’m not alone on that fact, as a recent YouGov poll showed that only 23 percent of Americans planned to make a resolution this year.

Those of us who do not make resolutions have good reason for their skepticism: they are usually pointless. According to U.S. News & World Report, roughly 80 percent of resolutions that people do make ultimately fail.

Maybe the reason they fail though is because we are thinking of resolutions in the wrong way. They tend to either be goals that we aren’t actually ready to pursue, or they are so vague that they are essentially meaningless.

The most popular resolutions are always things like “losing weight” or “save more money,” which are both difficult tasks that take thoughtful planning and discipline to accomplish. Making that kind of goal happen can only really occur if you are mentally prepared. You need to learn things you don’t know and turn that knowledge into a well-designed plan, and then you need to execute that plan. Take it from a guy who has lost 165 pounds.

People also make resolutions for things like traveling more, succeeding more in their career, or focusing on personal improvement. But these types of goals are non-specific and are quickly forgotten as soon as the hustle and bustle of life starts getting in the way.

Perhaps if we made tangible, specific, realistic resolutions, we might have more success, and there might be a point to making them.

For the politically engaged, I have a suggested resolution that would fit that model.

In our tribal world, it has become easier and easier to fall into a dangerous pattern, whereby our opinions are accepted without thought, and those of people on “their team” are immediately dismissed. This is especially true for those of us who have been politically engaged for a long time, as we long ago developed our worldview and values and see no need to rethink ourselves, or our ideas.

Yet we should.

A few months ago, I read “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” by organizational psychologist Adam Grant. The book, which is excellent, argues that the ability to doubt, critique, and re-think firmly held beliefs is an essential part of searching for truth.

“In our daily lives,” the book’s description reads, “too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos, rather than an opportunity to learn. We surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions when we should be gravitating toward those who challenge our thought process.”

Quite right, and especially true of politics.

The book appealed to me because, contrary to what you might think, I strongly believe in the necessity of constantly challenging my own beliefs, and do it daily. I have always rather enjoyed the process of attacking my own worldview, so much so that in debate exercises I actually prefer taking the opposing position to the one that I actually hold, because I find the experience more stimulating and intellectually interesting.

We shouldn’t be afraid of doing this, yet often are. If our opinions are so unassailable, then they can only be reconfirmed by subjecting them to a real ideological stress test. And indeed, that is often what happens to me.

Then again, what also happens is that I sometimes change my mind after seeing something from a new perspective, or at least I begin to identify shades of gray that make an issue a lot more complex than I had originally thought. At a minimum, I usually walk away with more respect and understanding of those who think differently than me.

Yet it is very hard to do that consistently. Our tribal identities have robbed us of the ability to pursue this habit which is so critical in pursuing truth. We often think our opponents need to practice it — because it will make them agree with us, of course — but rarely do we think we need to do it to ourselves.

To not constantly doubt and argue against ourselves is to turn our brains off, and mindlessly regurgitate the dogmas of supposition.

So why not make it your resolution this year to fight against that tendency by intentionally rethinking your most cherished, deeply held beliefs, and see what happens?


Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...