Whilst many, myself included, are probably counting down the minutes until 2016 is finally behind us, there’s one thing about the arrival of 2017 that I dread – the onslaught of New Year’s resolutions. In a survey published by Statistic Brain earlier this month, of the 48% of Americans who usually make resolutions only 8% claimed to be successful in keeping them, and here lies my issue with New Year’s resolutions. They’re never kept. Throughout the year we find it all too easy to delay making the changes that we know we should make, so then, what is it about January the 1st that convinces so many of us that we’ll finally achieve the self-change we desire?
From cutting down on undesirable behaviours such as drinking or smoking, to doing something that you’ve been putting off like attending all your lectures, making a New Year’s resolution is something we’ve all been guilty of at some point or another. Personally, paying for a gym membership that I am not going to get my money’s worth for is something I’m guilty of doing on a termly basis, and yet I still pray that the mantra of ‘new year, new me’ will finally be the necessary motivation. However, January the 1st is not going to suddenly cure me of my aversion to exercise, and that is a fact I’ve learned to accept. In all likeliness, this year I’ll still give into the initial hype and get dragged into attending a class or two with my housemate, but then I’ll remember why I never went to the gym in the first place and it’s back to business as usual. Resigned to be yet another failed New Year’s statistic.
After the Christmas period, it’s easy to think that you need to cut down on food and alcohol or lose weight – and rightly so, as consuming mince pies and mulled wine each day is not something to do year round (as much as I’d love to). I doubt, however, that the Christmas lifestyle is one that is often carried on after the festive season ends, and thus as the bloating goes away as does the motivation it creates. You have to ask yourself, why haven’t I achieved this goal already, or at least started to work towards it, and what part of this arbitrary date will encourage me to make the changes I’ve been thinking about for a while. If its something that you want badly and are willing to work for, then you wouldn’t need to wait until January 1st to make a start at it.
I’m sorry but we both know that you’re probably destined for failure
The problem with most New Years resolutions is that they are unrealistic – we expect change too quickly, too easily, or are expecting too much of ourselves. In what Polivy and Herman label ‘False Hope Syndrome’, it is easy to fall into a cycle of making a resolution, not keeping it and then vowing to try again next year in the hope that you’ll finally succeed, with it being estimated that it takes an average of 10 years in this cycle. This is essentially a scaled-up version of saying to yourself that you’ll get out of bed at 8:00am, realising its 8:02 and thinking ‘well I’ve missed that chance, better wait till 8:30’.
Additionally, setting unrealistic resolutions makes it easier to accept failure. Whilst it may initially seem achievable and enticing to usher in a ‘new you’ with the New Year, the eventual realisation that you were aiming too high makes it easy to brush off giving up by thinking ‘it’s just not me’. This is exacerbated as the cycle of false hope goes on, as you start to accept that your resolution is unachievable and begin each year with the expectation of failure. Another problematic factor is the vagueness of resolutions. It’s easy to say that you’re going to start working out or are going to work harder, but what are you specifically wanting to achieve? When are you going to set aside the time to do it? Hence, refining resolutions into smaller, more specific goals is one way in which you can start making New Year’s resolutions that you actually will accomplish, and that will allow you to break out of the cycle of failed resolutions.
So, if after reading this article you are counting down the seconds till midnight when you can finally become the ‘new you’ or thinking ‘this is the year I will keep my resolution’, then I’m sorry but we both know that you’re probably destined for failure. But if you are going to make a New Year’s resolution, make it one that you’re willing put in the work to achieve, for which you don’t need an arbitrary date to force yourself to start.