This time last year, I settled on a resolution that I hoped would make the world a marginally better place. As 2022 became 2023, I set myself the challenge of offering no cultural recommendations to anyone for the next 12 months.
It was a departure from my usual, pretty ordinary, New Year’s resolutions: go for more runs, wake up earlier, lay off the coffee after the fourth cup, and so on. Instead, I’d go cold turkey on telling people that they must read this or they’re crazy not to be watching that.
Why? Because I had grown frustrated by what I call Toxic Recommendation Culture.
Allow me to explain.
Our bar for recommendations has fallen far too low. In the streaming age, we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want. Yet, faced with limitless choice, we have somehow become less discerning about what we watch—and what we suggest other people watch, too. It’s bad enough being inundated with options. We don’t need to force our viewing habits on others.
As with other chronic problems, like plunging literacy rates and widespread obesity, the pandemic made Toxic Recommendation Culture worse. Stuck at home toggling between the small, medium, and large screen, we emerged a little flabbier, a little less socially well-adjusted, and completely bloated with content to foist on our friends and colleagues.
Enough was enough. Time to lead by example, I thought, and “be the change you want to see in the world,” as Gandhi once said. He had the evils of an empire to worry about. I had too many people telling me to drop everything and watch The Bear.
How hard could it be? All I had to do was keep my mouth shut.
But what I thought would be a small tweak turned out to be a grueling test of mental resilience. And one I failed spectacularly. By spring, I was back to recommending with abandon.
Why did I fail? Part of the answer, I think, gets at the key to a good New Year’s resolution: you’ve got to be selfish. My resolution was doomed because it was borne out of my frustration with the world around me, rather than myself.
Free Press contributor and modern-day stoic Ryan Holiday frames resolutions as an effort to close the gap between “the person you are and the person you’re trying to be.” Below, you’ll find what various Free Pressers are doing to close that gap this year. Some are small modifications to daily life (drink less soda!); others are life-changing (get engaged!). All are about becoming better versions of ourselves.
As for me, I’m letting Toxic Recommendation Culture run amok and instead focusing on myself in 2024. Instead of 365 days of self-control, I’m opting for a feat of sporting prowess that requires only a moment of brilliance (and probably a fair bit of training).
My resolution is to dunk a basketball before the year is out.
Why the dunk? In part because, to put it in Ryan’s terms, the person I want to be is a guy who can dunk a basketball. In other words, a slightly cooler, stronger, more athletic version of myself.
But this resolution is an effort to play a trick on myself. I’ve repackaged all the usual pledges of fitness and weight loss into a fun little side quest. Rather than a vague sense that I need to work out more, I have a tangible if pointless goal I’m working towards.
I’ve never played basketball, but I’m tall (six feet, four inches) and in my
early mid-thirties, so this goal is—I think—in that sweet spot of attainable but by no means easy. Enough of a challenge to require some serious work, not so much of a stretch that I’ll give up in a few months. Plus, now I’ve told you all about it, so I have the added motivation of avoiding public humiliation—and being able to boast about my dunking skills in a year’s time.
So that’s me.
What about the rest of the (shorter) people I work with? Herewith, resolutions from the Free Press team. . .
Olivia Reingold: Go From Nubs to Nails
I’m a full-grown adult with the habit of a toddler: nail-biting, or, if we’re really being honest, nail-picking.
To examine the situation earnestly is to be disturbed—my ex-boyfriend certainly was when he took me to urgent care in 2015 for a bloated, pussing finger infected by my own stupidity.
Consider me in the top one percent of all nail pickers, since the only way to surpass me is to have no nails at all. I am getting off the wagon before I join that camp—while I still have a hard shell left on my fingers.
Expect big things for me in 2024, like my first manicure in years. See these nails get to work, doing things they haven’t done in a long time, like working the clasp of a necklace or peeling back a piece of errant tape. Watch me soar to health, no longer burdened with what were essentially open wounds on my fingertips. Who knows, maybe I’ll master the piano, or at least pose for a killer engagement ring photo (right, boyfriend?). And most of all, hopefully I’ll sit still. No picking, no fidgeting, just stillness.
Nellie Bowles: Keep on Keeping On
I keep thinking of resolutions. This year, I should call my friends more often to check in, or my parents (maybe). This year, I should do yoga once a week. This year, I should read less news and more books. Or. . . this year, I should wear makeup and better clothes, put a little effort in, and maybe I will actually do this. But honestly, then I think: I've got enough on my plate! I’m doing plenty and it’s great. I can’t add any of these to some sort of guilt treadmill.
I tried this argument out with some family members in the living room just now, and they said, “Oh, so you think you're perfect?” Well. Look. I’m 35. I’ve got a kid and a job. I’m nice enough. I’m in some kind of shape. And I like reading the news. I call my friends plenty; we’re all busy moms, it’s really fine. And so this year: no resolutions. I’m not perfect, but I look things over and I think: no major notes. Keep on keeping on into 2024. If that makes me a monster, so be it. Maybe I’ll work on it in 2025.
Emily Yoffe: Attract More Butterflies
The butterflies didn’t come in 2023. Years ago, we pulled the grass from our small patch of yard and planted a meadow designed to attract pollinators. But something went wrong this past year. Spring then summer passed, and I could count the small number of swallowtails and monarchs. The zinnias, the milkweed, even the butterfly bush that once were their landing pads were devoid of our annual visitors. Decades ago, I traveled to Mexico’s Central Highlands where monarchs hibernate. It was magical, like walking through a forest of orange snow. I was lucky—in subsequent years their population has crashed. I read recently that clearing your yard of leaves harms pollinators who lay their eggs on the debris. So no leaf-blowing for us this year. Maybe I have the wrong kind of milkweed and need to tear it out. Come spring, I will do my best to make our garden a waystation for these magnificent creatures.
Margi Conklin: Fall Back in Love With Books
Growing up, I lived for books. Instead of summer camp, I’d spend my time off from school going to the local library and checking out everything I could. One of my favorite memories from childhood is reading The Secret Garden under the lilac trees on a blanket on our front lawn. In fifth grade, I wrote an essay declaring my intentions to be a journalist, but not a novelist because they’re prone to moodiness and depression. In 2007, I ended up marrying a novelist. (He’s called Christopher J. Yates. He’s lovely. And only occasionally moody.) Before the pandemic, I ran a book club for years that religiously read a novel by a dead author once a month, followed by vigorous discussions about literary themes and big ideas. And then Covid happened, and this brings me to my point: suddenly I stopped reading for pleasure. I literally could not pick up a book. I think the terror and uncertainty of our real lives wouldn’t allow me to disappear into an imaginary world. Anyway, three years later, I can probably count the number of novels I’ve read on two hands. And so my New Year’s resolution is to return to the person I am: a book lover who reads for pleasure. I’ve already started early: last week I finished Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. (I highly recommend this novel to readers of The Free Press—and especially to you, Olly!)
Ten Twenty-Seven Resolutions for 2024
Run the L.A. Marathon without crying
Floss everyday to earn the love of my dentist father
Figure out how to stop my gums from bleeding
Finish last year’s resolutions
Convince the ghost of that Spanish friar to leave my house (mi casa)
Keep crushing Duolingo
Water my inner garden
Delouse my inner scalp
Delouse my actual scalp
Stop sleeping in motels
Coin the term inceive (reception : receive → inception : inceive)
Call my parents more
Call my grandparents more
Call my great gr– visit the graves of loved ones every once in a while
Take advantage of my new unlimited data plan by spending more time on social media
Learn one cool dance move to use at weddings, bar mitzvahs, and the occasional flash mob
Revive the flash mob
Become a TGIF headline
Learn to count
Learn to code (this one is leftover from 2022)
Learn what code is
Finally understand crypto Practice acoustic guitar for 15 minutes a day to finally discover the joys of music
Try to sell “lightly used” acoustic guitar
Either gain or lose 50 pounds—this middle ground is not working
Stop being so hard on myself
Suzy Weiss: Get Engaged
I’ve had a great run being an independent woman. I’m proud of my college degrees and all the paid bills. I eat well, I sleep in, and I have a great job that I got completely on my own merit and not because I’m someone’s daughter. I’m someone's sister. It’s totally different.
But here we are, in the twilight years of my twenties. Party’s over and it’s time to get real. I’ve seen what’s out there. I’ve gone on dates with Bernie bros, artist types, tech guys, dirtbags, freeloaders, girl’s guys, mama’s boys, and in a few instances, sons of bitches. I know what’s for sale. I know when the shipments come in. I know that when a man says he’s not looking for anything serious, he’s really looking for himself, or worse, and it’s better to just call the cab now.
So my resolution: I’m getting married. I just don’t know to whom yet. Details!
Do I want to go full tradwife? No. I’d like to still go to the occasional movie alone, I don’t want to move to the sticks, and I won’t be quitting my job to start tending hearth and home. But I can get behind baking more bread and eating less seed oils. I’d like to learn more practical skills, or even a practical skill. I like being barefoot, I have a kitchen. All I need is the husband part.
Beam me up, Ballerina Farm.
Candace Kahn: Take Up Cardio Dance Funk
Since Bari subjects me to many consecutive hours hunched over my desk, it should be no surprise that my New Year's resolution is to move more. I decided to start this resolve early this year, by attending two cardio dance funk classes at the local dance center—an old studio in a suburban strip mall, nestled between a consignment shop and a hearing aid store. When I saw women 40 years my senior jazz-walking and hip-thrusting better than I could, it was just the inspiration I needed. I bought a 20-class pass, and plan on shimmying, cha-cha-ing, and grooving my way into a healthier, less back-achy 2024.
Kiran Sampath: A Full Reassessment
Become better known at restaurants in my area. Fall more confidently when I fall up the subway stairs. Think twice before using scissors to redesign my clothing. Watch a movie at night without falling asleep. Figure out my allergies. Take the ACT as an experiment to see if I am more or less intelligent than I used to be. Go in my basement, alone, with the lights off, and be brave. Turn off the basement lights without sprinting up the stairs. Date a guy who wears multiple cute layers of clothing and knows how to read. Finish the 36 books I’m in the middle of. Find out more about market patterns for my conversations with stock brokers.
Maya Sulkin: Stop Slacking During Therapy
If any of you have gone to therapy, especially in a city like Los Angeles, it’s no small commitment. I thought remote therapy would make it easier. But it still requires waking up at 7 a.m. as to not let it obstruct the work day, it costs an arm and a leg and, much to my dismay, I end each session feeling slightly more unsettled than the last. And yet, I go every week. And every week, my therapist yells at me for messaging co-workers during our session. “If you want to pay my hourly rate and spend it working, that’s fine by me. But I can assure you that these sessions won’t help if you aren’t engaged.” A valid point.
The truth is, I am so bored of my own problems and, more often than not, Slack is so much juicer. So, in 2024, my goal is to find an in-person therapist so that my computer is not in arms reach. Or perhaps I end therapy altogether and see where that takes me.
Francesca Block: Drink Less Diet Coke
There’s no worse feeling than making a resolution that you know you can’t keep. That’s why every year I try to create a resolution that’s extremely attainable. That way, by the end of the year, I can actually feel good about myself for accomplishing it. Last year, it was to wear more sunscreen—and I’m proud to announce I am now obsessive about applying SPF 30 to my face every morning. For 2024, my resolution is to drink more water and less diet soda. I’m getting in those last sips of Diet Coke while I still can.
Neeraja Deshpande: Talk to Strangers
I'm one of those Zoomers who can’t drive (yet!), so I’ve spent a lot of time on public transportation in Boston. In the past, I'd regularly talk with strangers, and often hear their life stories—their hopes and dreams and first loves and work lives and all the rest. But as masks went up and ridership went down, I found my face increasingly buried in my phone or in a book. Somewhere along the way, I stopped looking at people. I’ve had a decent conversation with a perfect stranger here or there in recent years, but even though mask mandates haven't been in place since spring of 2022, my pre-pandemic habits have yet to bounce back. But enough’s enough: 2024 will be the year I go back to business as usual, focusing more on the people I see around me.
Julia Steinberg: A List of Aspirational Habits
Listen to audiobooks before bed instead of watching Instagram Reels (never TikTok!); become un-lactose intolerant (it’s just a psychological issue); go to the gym; be kinder to my mom; keep a journal; drink water before coffee; try something other than an iced oat latte; spend less time with headphones on; go to Shabbat dinners; listen to one new album a week; enunciate more and talk slower; practice Russian; and start re-learning Hebrew.
Bari Weiss: Look Up*
I hear about all of these high-powered CEOs who “unplug.” And not just nightly, but sometimes for extended periods—I’m talking multiple days in a row—where they go “offline.”
Apparently, when you get rich and successful enough, you are able to buy crucial things I lack: self-control, discipline, a healthy sleep schedule, the ability to log off Twitter.
I’m nearing 40. By now I have been humbled by many New Year’s resolutions that have gone unfulfilled. (I won’t list all of them here, but suffice it to say the Covid-era Peloton was returned after three weeks.)
So I won’t say I promise to sleep with my phone in another room. Let’s not get crazy. But I will resolve, here, in front of 550,000 of my closest friends, to try to look my family in the eyes a little more often, to go for walks without the devil’s rectangle, and generally to look up more at the ever-changing world around me.
*Bari also promises to stop Slacking Maya while she is at therapy.
Free Pressers, what are your New Year’s resolutions? Let us know in the comments. Also, if you have any advice on dunking a basketball, Olly needs all the help he can get.
And if your New Year’s Resolution is to support fearless, unowned, and independent journalism, subscribing to The Free Press is a great way to start: