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The enduring appeal of New Year’s resolutions

The enduring appeal of New Year’s resolutions

Christian San Jose
new year, fire works

After the holiday rush, Christmas feasting, and gift-giving comes a time of retrospection and reevaluation. It’s around the few days before the start of January until the first few days of the month that your social media feeds are filled with various declarations on change. There are promises of spending less or exercising more, quitting a bad habit and trying out new things.

Scrolling for a minute or two on Facebook or Instagram will make us feel the novelty the new year brings and everything it symbolizes. There seems to be a drive to overhaul life in a major way as if the previous year was too harsh or steady for your liking.

These New Year’s resolutions are also a way to somehow make amends to the wrong decisions and hurtful things that were done; thinking that somehow, doing good in the coming year is going to offset all these.

For the majority, a change in the year can mean a change in mindset. Feelings of positivity and hope are felt strongly especially when January begins. Changing the calendar can mean for others a chance to start over with a clean slate and make things right this time around. Additionally, since many are naturally motivated by self-improvement, we may see this time as an opportunity for a shift in mindset and perspectives.

new year, fire works
Photo courtesy of Michael Fousert on Unsplash
The fact that people still make New Year’s resolutions means that humanity is still full of hope, despite circumstances that encourage negativity and hopelessness.

This is what the Babylonians thought of some 4,000 years ago, who are said to have begun this yearly tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. For them, starting the year right meant welcoming it with festivities and making covenants to their gods to please them.

Then in 153 B.C., the Romans declared that January 1 would be the start of a new year. This day would honor the god Janus, who had two faces. One was looking back, while the other facing forward, symbolizing what we should be doing every time a new year rolls in.

Centuries later and people have continued on this tradition, reviewing the year that was and eagerly anticipating for the one coming next.

The other side of New Year’s resolutions

Despite the generations that have passed, the number of those who have successfully stuck by their resolutions have remained somewhat constantly low. About 60 percent of the total population in the U.S. list down New Year’s resolutions. The same is true in the Philippines, where almost half of Filipinos in an SWS survey have admitted to making resolutions.

Yet only 25 percent make it for at least 30 days, while just eight percent have stayed committed until the end of the year.

Research has been done on this phenomenon, studying the various reasons why the majority end up breaking resolutions as quickly as they’ve thought them out.

One of which is that these goals aren’t very specific. For instance, many list ‘losing weight’ or ‘being healthier’ as the top priority. How exactly does this look like? Losing pounds or inches, going vegan or vegetarian, cutting down on sweets or exercising regularly?

That’s another issue common among non-resolvers: not coming up with a specific plan that will let them achieve this goal. For instance, if you want to save more money in 2020, do you have a strategy so you don’t spend too much on unnecessary things? If all you have is the target without the means to get there, then you’re doomed from the start.

Since many believe they’re multitaskers, they scribble pages upon pages of resolutions, wanting to do more than what’s feasible or possible. If you’re spreading yourself too thin, you may get overwhelmed with so many things to accomplish that you end up not even ticking off one your list.

Psychologists have also found that once you go through a setback or go back to old ways, you get discouraged right away. Then you become too hard on yourself and give up easily, without realizing that it takes time to build new habits opposite to what you were accustomed to.

Mindset and perspective shifts, and the will to change aren’t abundant when the clock strikes 12 on the first day of the new year. If you’re really serious about starting major changes, then the best time to do so is now

Making New Year’s resolutions is limiting

Yes, it’s great to realize that some sort of improvement is needed in your life, but you shouldn’t hinge this desire only on Jan. 1. Like many timekeeping systems, the lunar calendar is a social construct. Even those whom this tradition originated from didn’t really have a fixed date on when their festivities commenced. It was only decided upon by those in power in the Roman Empire.

So, you don’t really need to wait until the first month of a new year to start introducing change that you want to happen. You can begin cultivating new habits and routines in February, on your birth month, or whenever you feel like it. There are 11 other months in the calendar that you can choose from. And doing so won’t make it less legitimate or valuable than if you waited for January 1 to come along.

Solely relying on resolutions that are short-lived sets us on a path of short-term change rather than one that’s long-lasting. It’s going to feel like déjà vu, consistently writing the same goals that you won’t notice that years have gone by.

Mindset and perspective shifts, and the will to change aren’t abundant when the clock strikes 12 on the first day of the new year. If you’re really serious about starting major changes, then the best time to do so is now.

The silver lining

Despite the bleak statistics on the number of successfully fulfilled resolutions, this tradition has lived on for centuries and will continue to be practiced for as long as years end and begin. The fact that people still make New Year’s resolutions means that humanity is still full of hope despite circumstances that encourage negativity and hopelessness.

There is an awareness that you have the power and control to steer life towards a different direction. Now if only this attitude is carried out throughout the year and translated into action, then you may not be too pressured as soon you welcome the new year.


Header photo courtesy of Michael Fousert and Chris Gillbert on Unsplash

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