We have to confess to being a bit rubbish at New Year’s resolutions. Frankly, we can’t see the point; we’re more of the ‘do it now’ cohort, whatever the date. However, many humans reach 1 January and resolve to do better, to be better – and those aren’t such terrible goals. But why do we perform this ritual every year? What’s the point?
The origins of New Year’s resolutions
According to various history sites online, the Babylonians began the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions over 4,000 years ago. They used a New Year celebration, Akitu, to make promises to their gods to return borrowed items, plant crops, and pledge allegiance to their ruler. By the 17th century, the ritual was common, although without the promises to the gods.
We’ve all seen the gym memberships and courses enrolments spike in January. And we all know that research shows that around 80% of people who make resolutions have broken them by early February.
We seem unable to stick to our resolutions.
Mark Twain on New Year’s resolutions
The humorist and author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, noted:
“New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”
So what’s the answer to keeping a New Year’s resolution?
Why so many New Year’s resolutions fail
In our view (and validated by endless research papers), most resolutions fail because they focus on a negative or a loss. The usual ‘I will exercise more’ implies that you don’t exercise enough now (and there’s probably a good reason for that). “I will cut out carbs in my diet” is a sacrifice; if you want to do that, do it for Lent or just do it when you feel like it. “I will be kinder” might mean curbing your impatience. Just avoid people who make you feel unkind.
From Wikipedia: In a 2014 report, 35% of participants who failed their New Year's Resolutions admitted they had unrealistic goals, 33% of participants did not keep track of their progress, and 23% forgot about them; about one in 10 respondents claimed they made too many resolutions.
If you’re stuck on sticking to a New Year’s resolution or three, make a plan. Commitment is more than making a firm resolve to yourself. You need to map out in detail how you can achieve your goal, and set milestones so you know when you’re succeeding.
Breaking your plan into steps means you won’t be discouraged if you fail at one hurdle. You can start that step again and you won’t feel like you’re starting from scratch.
How positive New Year’s resolutions help you succeed
When you make a commitment to add to the sum of happiness in your life, you’ll find it easier to stick to your guns. What makes you feel good? What do you enjoy doing that you haven’t done enough of in the past year? Write down all the activities that make you feel better and work your resolutions around them. In the end, the happier you are, the nicer you’ll be to be around and that’s the ultimate intention of most of our resolutions, isn’t it?
We’ve made our own resolutions about making New Year’s resolutions. On 1 January, we’re going to commit to a list that adds to, not detracts from, our happiness:
- Have more fun
- Book a dream holiday
- Brush our teeth after eating a salad
- Wear dark-coloured clothing to Italian restaurants
- Dance on the beach like no-one’s watching
- Love more
- Remember to get the year correct by at least 1 February
- Do a good deed every day, however small
- Laugh at ourselves more often
- Book a sleeper compartment on a train to – well, anywhere
- Read more books
- Read the instructions for an Ikea product BEFORE starting to put it together
What New Year’s resolution would you add to our list? Let us know.
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