Like a bear immerging from hibernation, the start of January and the beginning of a new year signifies the dragging of reluctant feet from our nest of Christmas chocolate and loungewear ready to face a new term. Like the numerous traditions (some good, some bad) that we insist on maintaining throughout the festive period, New Year’s resolutions is the final one signposting officially the end of Christmas. But why do we insist on making resolutions? Are they the stuff of dreams- optimistic and unrealistic, and usually forgotten about by the turn of spring? Or are they positive life goals, set to make us into better human beings, and ultimately into an increasingly better society?
The making of New Year’s resolutions is a tradition most commonly found in the western hemisphere, in which a person commits to a promise of their choice in aim of self-improvement achieved in the New Year. The tradition hails as far back as the ancient Babylonians (1894 BC) who made promises to Gods that they would return borrowed objects, and pay off their debts. The act of creating New Year’s resolutions was also practiced by the Romans, who made promised to their God Janus, for whom the month of January is named. Whilst in the Medieval Era, knights would be seen to make the ‘peacock vow’ at the end of the Christmas season, reaffirming their commitment to chivalry. Along with these historic evidences of New Year’s resolutions there are apparent religious parallels with this tradition, like the Judaism New Year who celebrate Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement) where people reflected on their wrongdoings committed in the previous year, and both seek and offer forgiveness. However, regardless of origin, religious belief or creed, the overall concept of New Year’s resolutions remains the same: self-improvement.
According to a study undertaken in 2007 by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol, out of 3,000 people 88% of those who set New Year’s resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of those people were confident of success from the beginning. Men are apparently more successful at achieving New Year’s resolutions as they engage in goal setting where a system of small measurable goals are set each week, like ‘only drink at the weekends’, rather than ‘stop drinking’. Women, on the other hand, were 10% more successful when they made their resolutions public and had support from friends.
According to Psychologists at the University of Hertfordshire, 78% of people who failed in achieving their New Year’s resolution automatically focused on the downside of not sticking to their goals, having simply just repressed their cravings, fantasised about being successful or relying on willpower alone. It was also warned that resolutions made in the spur of a drunken moment or last minute nearly always back-fire, and so shouldn’t be taken as seriously.
So with so many statistics all pointing towards the unrealistic and unachievable nature of New Year’s resolutions, how can we set targets and goals for 2015 that we will actually stick to? After all, it would be a shame to abandon an opportunity to better ourselves, or to set life goals in order to make us happier people.
My recommended path to success is to stick to these three things: small, realistic, and not too serious. Don’t try and achieve 50 things by December 2015, you surely can’t need to change that much about yourself, and if you feel you do maybe your one resolution should be ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself!’ Being realistic is very important, as it signifies the difference between saying ‘I’m going to have an amazing beach-body by Summer 2015’, to saying ‘I’m going to lose a pound a week’. One’s a fantasy, one’s achievable- I’ll let you guess which one is which. Finally, don’t be too serious with your resolution, as life is serious enough. If you fail, just pick up where you left off and try again. Everyone is allowed a fall into relapse- whether that means having a mid-week beer, smoking a cigarette when drunk, or scoffing a packet of biscuits before an assignment deadline. Resolutions are about positive self-improvement, so don’t be hard on yourself when you sometimes trip into old habits. After all, life would be no fun without the occasional sin.
Finally, here are a few New Year’s messages and resolutions taken from the mouths of some great, intelligent, and fantastic people, all in the name of celebrating pastures new, self-improvement and looking forward to a positive future:
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” — TS Eliot
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” — Mother Teresa
“I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years.” — Henry Moore
“All of us every single year, we’re a different person. I don’t think we’re the same person all our lives.” — Steven Spielberg
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” — Albert Einstein