As the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1st, 2013, people across the globe, like making a birthday wish and blowing out candles on a cake, shut their eyes and made a different sort of wish: A New Year’s resolution.
Newspapers print stories every year about the folklore behind celebrating various “new years” and people vowing to change themselves for the better in the next 365 days.
The History Channel website attributes the first New Year’s celebration to Roman emperor Julius Caesar, who honored the Roman god of new beginnings, Janus – hence January – who has two faces to look into the future and remember the past. Then again, History Channel show Ancient Aliens would probably deduce that aliens dictated the date of the new year, so why should we trust anything they say?
Regardless of when the first New Year’s resolution was made, sharing these goals has become as much of a tradition as coming up with them. Google has even created an interactive map for the people of the world to share their resolutions, which can fall under categories like love, health, finance and career, and do good.
And many of these resolutions are similar, if not exactly the same: Lose weight, volunteer, get better grades, finish a project, quit smoking, start or maintain a successful relationship… the list goes on. Most of these are attainable ambitions, so why did the Wall Street Journal report in 2009 that 88% of New Year’s resolutions fail?
Are we set up for failure from the get-go because of an innate lack of willpower? Or, coupled with making more than one resolution and working toward each one concurrently starting at 12:01 a.m. Jan 1st, do we exhaust ourselves and give up completely when instead we should be breaking down our resolutions into milestones?
“It makes no sense to try to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time, or to clean the apartment and give up wine in the same month,” the WSJ says. “Instead, we should respect the feebleness of self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year.”
So if humans aren’t meant to follow through on our New Year’s resolutions, why do we make them?
If quitting smoking was as simple as tossing out all your packs and lighters, than why do five million smokers or ex-smokers die every year from tobacco-related illnesses? Factors like stress, predisposition to addictive behaviors, and a lack of available resources contribute to the inability to stop the “bad habit.” Not all of us can afford the time and money required to be joining a gym or starting an exercise regimen, and moving up in ones career during a time of economic instability might not be feasible.
But does that mean we should abandon our resolutions and give up hope?
In 2013, why not make your first New Year’s resolution simply to keep your New Year’s resolutions? And you totally will, if you construct a better resolution.
By formally declaring on Twitter that your New Year’s resolution is to lose 15 pounds, you have stated an intention, which is a great first step. A 2004 study found that people who make a simple New Year’s resolution are 10 times more likely to find success.
It’s even better if you couple your resolution with a course of action: You are going to lose 15 pounds by June by joining a gym, finding a class that suits your abilities and time commitment, and regularly attending that class. The key to winning any war is strategy, and you can only win a war one battle at a time.
Another component of keeping a New Year’s resolution is through eliminating cognitive dissonance, or connections in your brain between something that makes sense and something that doesn’t, so that your expectations align with reality. Advertising campaigns and news stories about deaths due to texting while driving air every day, but we continue to see drivers at stoplights with phones in hand. We know it’s wrong, but we do it anyway!
So why should we keep a resolution if it doesn’t complement our beliefs? Try to make connections between New Year’s resolutions and how you think to rationalize your actions. If you hate spending money on gas and want to start exercising, why not try to walk to as many places as you can? You’re not “exercising,” you’re saving money! Except you really are exercising, you just perceive an action that doesn’t sound pleasant with one that does.
By making a New Year’s resolution, breaking that resolution into smaller goals to be completed on a specific timeline, and tricking yourself into following that timeline by making your resolution a part of your current beliefs, you’re well on your way to becoming the you you want to be in 2014.
What were your New Year’s resolutions for 2013, or did you not make them at all? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.
Written by Lauren Slavin