The end of a year and the beginning of another is a time for reflection; it is a time for appraising and examining our lives and deciding on how to be a better person in the following 12 months. Making a New Year’s resolution is a natural trait of the human character, and its history can be traced back to the dawn of time itself.
Happy New Year! Image from ChristmasStockImages
To nature, time is a smooth continuation, but as humans we feel the need to compartmentalise time into discrete blocks, making it easier to deal with. As such, the ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the beginning of each year as early as the second millennium BC, a tradition continued by the Romans thousands of years later.
If anything, the practice of resolving to make a change at New Year is still gathering pace. In the mid twentieth century, it was estimated that 25% of Americans made New Year’s resolutions; as the same century drew to a close that figure had risen to 40%.
Of course simply making a New Year’s resolution is not enough; you also have to follow it through. In 2007, psychology professor Richard Wiseman conducted a study of 3,000 British people who made New Year’s resolutions; of these 3,000, 52% had stated that they were confident of keeping their resolution for at least 12 months, but only 12% actually managed to do so.
Image from Pixabay
The study showed that many people who fail to keep their resolutions do so because their goals are too ambitious or amorphous. For example, resolving to “run a marathon in 2015” when you have barely touched a pair of running shoes in your life is going to be pretty difficult, whereas aiming to run “five miles per week in January, six in February, seven in March…” and so on is more manageable.
Similarly, setting yourself some parameters was also shown to increase chances of success. Resolving to “exercise more” is so vague it might as well not be a resolution at all, but planning to “visit the gym four times a week and play football every Sunday” gives you a tangible and achievable goal.
As mentioned above, setting yourself a clearly defined and realistically achievable goal can dramatically improve your chances of success, but there are other ways to ensure that your resolution is not consigned to the scrap heap by February 1st.
Professor Wiseman’s study found that publicising your goals makes you more likely to pursue them with vigour. As humans, we take pride in the way we are viewed by our peers; so telling your friends about your resolution adds an extra fear factor of social embarrassment and can help to spur you on.
Wiseman’s study showed that this was most effective when used by women, who experienced a 10% higher success rate compared with women who opted to keep their resolutions a secret.
Set your Goals
Delineating a plan of action is another way to make your resolution successful. Human psychology dictates that slogging away at a single, mammoth goal causes us to become demoralised. However, if we break our goal up into smaller milestones and assign a completion time to each one, we can give ourselves the mental boost required to succeed.
Image from Wikipedia
This approach also makes it easier to incentivise our progress. By marking milestones and promising ourselves little rewards – such as a day spa break, or treating ourselves to a new toy – it becomes easier to stay strong and maintain our resolution.
Stick it Out
Two heads are better than one, the old adage goes. This is especially true in the case of New Year’s resolutions. Make a resolution alone and you bear the weight of temptation alone; make it with a reliable friend and you can lean on one another for support. The thought of getting up for a lone jog at 6am is easily dismissed; the thought of letting down a friend, less so.
Succeed with a resolution and you may feel just like the Spanish football team did after their victory in Euro 2008. Image from Wikipedia
The last and most brutal way to keep a resolution is just to persevere! The human brain seeks to adapt to, and then normalise, the stimuli it experiences. This means that if you make a change in your life, the first few weeks of the change are difficult as your brain struggles to adapt, but after this your mind and body accepts the change as a standard part of your life.
From here it becomes easier, so just stick at it! Oh, and good luck!