Have you broken a resolution yet?
Published 08/01/2013 | 06:00
New Year's Eve: Tradtionally the time for resolutions Most people set unrealistic goals
Mark Twain said, "New Year is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, friendly calls and humbug resolutions."
As we all know, these resolutions have a very short lifespan, with around 85pc being broken within one week.
It seems strange that we ritualistically, with annual regularity, set ourselves up for failure in this way. Even more strange is that we select a single day of the year on which this doomed process begins.
This habit is most probably propelled by the strong drive to improve ourselves and how better than starting another year with a clean slate and beginning anew.
Setting ourselves a goal that involves change for the better, at the very least shows we have faith in our ability to make this transformation. We also feel virtuous because we are acknowledging our imperfections and the need to improve.
Repeatedly doing this, year in year out, proves our determination, our metal and our worth is confirmed. Even though failure is high, there is evidence that those who make a resolution are more likely to succeed than those who think about it but fail to crystallise this into a definite resolve.
Selecting the first day of the year as the one to initiate this transformation is driven by a tradition that is said to date back to Babylonian times when people promised to return borrowed goods and pay their debts on January 1. It is also said that Julius Caesar contributed to this tradition by making resolutions on that day so as to honour the two-faced Roman god Janus, whose faces looked back and forward simultaneously. What better date than January 1 to look back at the past year and forward to the one to come.
It might seem incongruous that in the 21st century, people still make New Year promises and, according to Stephen Kraus, a social psychologist from Harvard, the proportion of the population making them has increased to more than 50pc during the 20th Century.
Why is failure so likely? Most people set unrealistic goals, such as wanting to get a better job or lead a healthier lifestyle.
Broad aspirations such as these are too unfocused to succeed and should be narrowed. For example, a more achievable goal would be to walk for 20 minutes three times per week or to do a work-related course to enhance our computer skills. Many work-related objectives are almost certain to fail because they are mainly outside the individual's control.
Peer support is also an important reinforcer and so garnering assistance from your nearest and dearest will help sustain enthusiasm when it is beginning to flag. Resolutions that take a long time to achieve or that are not readily visible, such as losing weight, are also high on the failure index and it is preferable to engage in these with others.
One of the most obvious reasons for failure is that changing how we behave, at any time of the year, is difficult. This dents our perseverance. If we are to continue, we need to give ourselves rewards from time to time as we achieve some of our goals.
This might be anything from a nice lunch in your favourite coffee shop to a day snuggled up in bed.
When we make a resolution, we need to do some preparatory work in advance.
It is naive to assume that if we simply snap our fingers on New Year's Day, our wishes will be magically fulfilled. If our goal is to take up a new hobby such as learning music, we need to decide on our instrument, how expensive it will be, where we can get lessons, will we have time to practise and so on.
Groundwork such as this will help avoid the disappointment of realising that learning the saxophone is not achievable despite our best intentions.
Our new year resolutions should not aspire to rule the world. They should be humble, simple and achievable; and remember, there is nothing wrong with starting again when we founder.
Health & Living