Ready to ring in the new year with a list of self-promises? Nearly 50% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and a majority of those are women. But why? Where did this tradition start? How do you avoid the best-intentions for improvement from turning into self-loathing failures? The history of New Year’s resolutions can be traced back to the time of Babylon, when ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. There are various other secular and religious examples of similar ceremonies and celebrations honoring this tradition. Following the Great Depression, nearly 25% of Americans were making resolutions. And today, it is estimated nearly 50% of people are making promises starting January 1. So what are we making resolutions about? According to the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology 2012 top resolutions were:
- Lose Weight
- Getting Organized
- Spend Less, Save More
- Enjoy Life to the Fullest
- Staying Fit and Healthy
- Learn Something Exciting
- Quit Smoking
- Help Others in Their Dreams
- Fall in Love
- Spend More Time with Family
Any of these sound familiar? Perhaps one (or more) are on your list? Now, on to how to tackle those lofty goals. Unfortunately, I do not have any solid, evidence-based answers (yet), but I thought it was still worth writing about. Apparently lots of research is currently being directed to why we feel the need for making these resolutions, and more specifically, questions are being asked about willpower (or lack thereof).
Feel the compelling need to use this annual time of self-reflection to make improvements in your life? Here are some tips that I have found universal from the “experts” from several sources like Forbes, WebMD, the WSJ, for succeeding with your resolution:
- Make ONE resolution – of course you will fail if you try to lose weight, quit smoking, be more organized, stay on budget, get a new job, and spend more time with family. So pick one of those, work on it, achieve it, find balance with it … and then you can make another resolution (don’t wait until next January 1 if you are ready before then).
- Keep it simple, tangible – Be specific and realistic with your goals. Start with small changes. For example, one pound of weight loss per week (for starters, is a healthy amount) sounds much more achievable than “I want to lose 30 pounds”. Right? But if you stick with your one pound per week in six months you will have nearly achieved your original goal of 30lbs. Aim for small victories (and celebrate them).
- Plan, plan, plan – after you have decided on ONE resolution, make realistic, measurable goals for yourself. And, if you slip up one day (or weekend), try to resist the urge to admit defeat and toss your resolution. Allow yourself some room for error (irresistible temptation). It is going to happen.
- Believe in yourself – you can do this. Get some accountability checks in place: friends, family, virtual stand-ins (MyFitnessPal is a wonderful resource). So when you are feeling like giving up, there is someone else that has promised to keep you moving forward in the right direction.
Want to do something to honor this time-tested tradition, but looking for some inspiration? Here are some ideas from WebMD, the Huffington Post, and TED talks. Just looking to be inspired? Steve Jobs usually does the trick with his landmark commencement address to Stanford graduates.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel your willpower waning in the weeks and months to come. Only about 8% of people keep their New Year’s resolution. There are many studies that offer insight to why our brains aren’t wired for New Year’s resolutions (I won’t bore you with the details, but my favorite article highlights several fascinating studies on human behavior and willpower: the WSJ). And the research is showing how a resolution’s success may be more about breaking a habit and changing a behavior. Perhaps instead we should focus more on examining the habits that lead us to make these resolutions?
Wherever your stand on resolution-making, all the best for the new year!