Why We Make New Year’s Resolutions, and Why We Should

“Making resolutions is a cleansing ritual of self assessment and repentance that demands personal honesty and, ultimately, reinforces humility.  Breaking them is part of the cycle.” – Eric Zorn

According to the dictionary the definition of making New Year’s resolutions is “setting goals for the New Year.”  As to where or how they first originated we do not know.  What we do know is that resolutions were already recorded by the Babylonians over four thousand years ago, and that they believed that whatever a person did on the first day of the year had significant effects on their lives all year long.  It is, in fact, well known that New Year’s resolutions do not have much of a success rate.  Yet, while many folks choose to skip the annual goal-setting phenomenon, almost half of American adults do indeed set at least one resolution in honor of the New Year.

Psychologically, the start of a new calendar year creates changes in our mind set.  We hearken back on prior year’s events that have passed and our thoughts drift to what could have been, what we could have done better.  A new year marks the revival and new beginning.  There is something wonderfully vitalizing about making resolutions on the first day of the New Year, something invigorating and stimulating about the clean, unblemished days ahead that promotes a “can do” feeling of optimism.  The New Year is a great time to look at the changes we would like to make in our lives and how to accomplish them.  A resolution is like a promise to us to improve our lives and to make the New Year a better one for ourselves and others.  Wanting to make resolutions is a good thing.  The fact that so many people keep making resolutions year after year, even when they do not, or cannot, always follow through on them indicates they have hope and a certain level of belief in their ability to facilitate change, becoming more of who they truly want to be.

Unfortunately for many of us the results of our resolutions take on an all too familiar pattern.  The first of the year we start off absolutely determined to follow through on our goals.  Excited and invigorated, we think that this year will be different from the last, when our resolutions went by the wayside.  But, once again, come February or even earlier, the majority of us have abandoned our goals altogether.  Most all New Year resolutions have the common theme of becoming a better person.  We endeavor to improve ourselves, yet many more resolutions end up unmet than kept.

So why then do we continue to make resolutions year after year even though less than half of us actually follow through on them?  For some it is a matter of tradition.  Another reason is the allure of starting from scratch.  The beginning of the year offers a fresh start and a clean slate.  The idea of bettering ourselves is another inspiration.  Most of us have a natural tendency toward self-improvement, and although the New Year is a somewhat arbitrary date, it does provide us with a goal date in order to prepare for the plans we intend to implement, and to get ourselves psyched up.

And, why is it that we fail in our worthy goal to make our lives better and more fulfilling?  Although many truly desire to keep their New Year resolution they lack the will power and/or belief in their ability to actually effect the desired change in their life.  Just wanting it, as we all know, is never enough.  Another common cause is that many people have not truly thought through their goals for the New Year, and as such are ill equipped to develop and maintain the necessary commitment to succeed.  Making a goal too hard to accomplish is also doomed to failure.  One quickly loses interest and the necessary motivation, sometimes feeling defeated before ever getting started.  People who think through what it is they really want to change in their lives, and effectively plan for it, have a much better chance of achieving their goals.  By intentionally breaking your resolution down into achievable steps, the stage is set for success rather than failure.

The number one reason people give for not making New Year resolutions is that they will fail to keep them.  There is no need for me to go into the numerous personal examples of this.  Suffice it to say that despite this fact New Year resolutions are something that should be made, and here is why:

  • Making resolutions sets forth a personal challenge.  It is human nature to become contented with our lot in life, “maintaining the status quo” if you would.  By making well-conceived resolutions you are able to explore your potential and continue to grow as an individual, and a productive member of society.
  • Making resolutions obliges us to take stock of where we are and how we can improve.  The start of a new year, a new beginning, is a natural time for us to reflect and evaluate our lives.  Have I been the kind of person I want to be?  Is there an area in my life that I would like to work on, to improve?  Is there something I have dreamed of doing to improve myself or my lot in life for quite some time now?
  • Making resolutions signifies our desire to take a step towards positive change.  Even if we are unsuccessful in making all the changes we hope to, actually making a resolution will at least focus us, and take us a few steps forward.  As far as I am concerned that is a heck of a lot better than just doing nothing.

Once again heading into the New Year with an ongoing recession brings with it a somewhat different attitude than a few years ago.  According to a leading psychology researcher who has done extensive research on resolutions, John Norcross at the University of Scranton, the economy will affect many people’s resolutions again this year.  Giving up some of those daily indulgences such as take-out coffee, and further cost cutting by brown-bagging lunch, cutting up credit cards, and shopping at discount stores as people continue to struggle to get out of debt, or simply survive.

There is, in fact, some research which confirms that setting a resolution can get you closer to your goals.  One such study found that 46 percent of individuals who made resolutions were successful compared to four percent who wanted to achieve a certain goal and considered it but did not actually create a resolution.

Here is the bottom line: folks who make resolutions to change are ten times more likely to achieve those changes than people who want to change but never actually resolve to do so, whether it is New Year’s eve or not.

What ideas do you have for this brand new year?  Whatever you decide to do in order to make 2012 a better year for yourself and others, pick resolutions you believe you can stick to and then take stock, plan ahead, make the commitment, and do the best you can to accomplish your goals. You may well be surprised, and impressed, at what a difference it can make in your life and perhaps in the lives of those around you.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!