How many New Year’s resolutions have you made in your life? Now… how many have you actually stuck to?
Don’t feel bad; it’s estimated that less than ten percent of all New Year’s resolutions are actually accomplished. Every New Year’s, people all across the globe assemble a list of sweeping goals, promising themselves and others that they’ll fulfill them. These ambitions normally include losing weight, exercising more, quitting a bad habit, or saving money. Convinced that starting these endeavors on January 1st will miraculously guarantee success, people work vigorously towards these goals… at first. They watch what they eat, go to the gym religiously, terminate their bad habits, and relish in their newfound willpower. Despite falling into the same trap year after year, they pledge to make this year the year they’ll finally meet their expectations.
The first two weeks usually go along beautifully, but by February, people begin backsliding. Before long, they find themselves slipping back into the old habits they had vowed to quit. By the following December, most people are back where they started, or even further behind.
The main reason that people don’t stick to their resolutions is that they set too many, or choose one that is unrealistic. Timothy Pychyl, a well-known professor of psychology, claims that New Year’s resolutions are a form of “cultural procrastination,” an effort to reinvent oneself. Pychyl argues that people aren’t ready to change their bad habits, which accounts for the strikingly high failure rate. These people may also be victims of “False Hope Syndrome”, which is characterized by a person’s unrealistic expectations about the speed, ease, and extent to which their aims can be fulfilled. The other aspect of failed resolutions lies in the cause and effect relationship. Many believe that if they lose weight, exercise more, or reduce their debts, their lives will dramatically improve. When this doesn’t go as planned, they become discouraged and revert back to old behaviors.
New Year’s resolutions have a long and interesting history. New Year’s was first celebrated 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon. Although the Babylonians did not have a written calendar, historians determined that the new year was observed in late March with the arrival of the spring season. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar took the throne in 49 B.C. that the calendar began where it does today. (To accomplish this, Caesar let the previous year continue for 445 days!)
The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions began during the reign of Caesar. At the time, New Year’s resolutions, such as being kind to others, were of a moral nature. Compared to the resolutions made today, these were far more feasible and necessary. Perhaps if people today sought to improve themselves in the self-reflective, virtuous manner of the Romans during Caesar’s reign, New Year’s resolutions would get a better rap.
Above all, people should avoid waiting until New Year’s to make resolutions. The idea that we have one chance per year to break bad habits and start good ones is ridiculous. Self-betterment should be a continuous process and practiced every day, regardless if it’s January 1st or mid-July.
Graphic: Anika Tsapatsaris