New Year’s Resolutions

2013

I enjoyed writing about the end of the world so much, I thought I’d try my hand writing about New Year’s Resolutions!

(The following first appeared in print via www.NewHavenBulletin.com on 12/31/2012)

According to USA Today, some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2013 are as follows:

  • Drink less alcohol
  • Eat more healthy food
  • Get a better education/job
  • Get fit
  • Lose weight
  • Manage debt/stress
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  • Take a trip
  • Volunteer to help others

Do any of these resolutions look familiar to you?  I know I am personally familiar with several of them.

Okay, let me be totally honest with you here.  As I was reading this list and came across the resolution to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, I thought to myself, “Really?  What kind of person would make THAT their New Year’s Resolution?”

Then, I remembered: I did, in 2007.   It was actually the only New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever kept in my entire life.

Not a very good track record if you consider I’ve probably been making New Year’s Resolutions for at least 20 years (maybe longer)!

I started to feel bad about being a failure for a little while, then I decided to do what I normally do when something is bothering me:  I Google it.  I’m sort of glad I did, because I found out that according to Wikipedia, 88% of all New Year’s Resolutions fail.

What this means is that on 12/20/12 the odds in Las Vegas for the world ending on 12/21/12 were higher than the chances of your New Year’s Resolution being a success.

With such a high failure rate, I can’t help but wonder… who was the genius that started the whole New Year’s resolution trend?  And, what can I do to help ensure my resolutions won’t fall by the wayside before Valentine’s Day?

The first historical record of how a New Year was welcomed dates back to 2000 BC when the Babylonians would hold semi-annual festivals near the spring and autumnal equinoxes.  During the festivals, the Babylonians would pay off their debts in order to start the New Year with a clean slate.

This practice remained until the days of Roman reign, when the Romans would offer up resolutions of good conduct to the god of beginning and endings, Janus.  When the Roman calendar was created, the first month of the year was named ‘January’ in honor of him, making it the official beginning of every New Year.

In Medieval times, the knights of old would take what was called a “Peacock Vow” at the end of the Christmas season to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry.  (Little wonder knights from medieval days still have the power to make ladies swoon even today!)

In 1740, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, founded Watchnight services as an alternative to the drunken revelry and fun times that New Year’s traditionally brings about.  During these services, which are sometimes held even in the modern era, Christians have time to confess their wrongdoings in the past year, as well as pray and make resolutions to do better in the coming year.

Here in the 21st century, we no longer make vows to re-affirm our commitment to chivalry (although I’m not entirely certain that’s such a bad idea).  Most of us can’t pay off our debts in full to start the year off with a clean, debt-free slate (hello, home mortgage).  Almost all of our resolutions fall into the previously mentioned USA Today Top Ten of New Year’s resolutions.

With the beginning of each New Year, we now seek primarily to break with the ingrained patterns of negative habits in our lives.  I’m probably not the only who would agree that as a collective society, we have a lot of bad habits worthy of being broken.

As you set about the task of making your New Year’s resolution, probably the most important thing to remember is that it is widely accepted by psychologists and other experts that it takes 28 days to change a habit.    While that certainly sounds easy enough, we all know if it was really that easy the New Year’s resolution failure rate wouldn’t be at 88%.    If you want to beef up your odds of success, experts say that you should write down your resolutions and keep them in a place where you will see them, share your resolutions with others, and be sure to track your progress.

Now, if you’d like some non-expert advice from someone who has actually succeeded at keeping one New Year’s resolution for over 6 years (go me!), here it is:  pick something easy, and pick something extrinsic that motivates you.

I would also recommend picking more than one resolution, that way you have a 50/50 chance at success.

That’s why my two New Year’s resolutions are to walk the dogs more often and get Alex to eat more vegetables.

Happy New Year!

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