Resolutions:How they began and why they fail
As another year quickly approaches a close, I too, am left with the desire to look back, to resurrect my proclamations I made on January 1, 2017, reflect on events, and of course, resolve to do a few things better, bigger, faster and more epic in the coming year.
I’m also struck with curiosity about the origins of the New Year’s resolution as well as whether this is an effective practice for lasting change. In my research into the custom, I found the tradition of celebrating the start of a new year to be around 4000 years old; however, it was originally celebrated by the Babylonians every March as an 11-day religious festival with different daily rituals occurring each day. During this time, they would promise to repay debt, return borrowed objects and either reaffirm loyalty to the current reigning king or crown a new one. If you kept your word, the gods smiled upon you and if you didn’t, well, let’s just say, Lucy had some ‘splainin to do.
Cut to 46 BC. Julius Caesar is in power and is of a mind to make a few changes, including the newly minted first day of the year, January 1st. January gets its name from the god, Janus who according to historical accounts was a two-faced god who looked backwards into the past year while simultaneously looking into the year ahead. Side note, but does anyone else believe Janus may have been a Gemini?
But I digress. The Romans were apparently quite fond of January and as such, offered up sacrifices and promises of upstanding behavior to the god for the coming year.
Even in Christian cultures, the practice of looking at the year’s worth of sin and resolving to do better in the year ahead dates back centuries.
While today we may no longer offer up livestock, crown a new king, or fear a vengeful god as the clock strikes midnight, many cultures, religious and secular groups alike still abide by a certain ritual of ringing in the new year. For many, it signals a re-birth if you will, of the soul, the mind, and a certain hopefulness of blessings and abundance to come. An estimated 45% of the American population will make some type of resolution beginning on January 1st. Not surprisingly, weight loss, fitness and smoking cessation top the list year in and year out (see what I did there?). That’s roughly 145 million people all vowing at once to shed fat, get fit and butt out. However, the CDC reports a third of US adults are obese today and cigarettes are still responsible for claiming the lives of more than 480,000 people each year. Only 8-10% of those making resolutions are successful in achieving their goals. This begs the question: why? I’ve compiled a short list of what I believe are the top reasons for this underwhelming statistic. Let’s strap on the protective head gear and have a look inside, shall we?
It’s the first week of January and your cube mate has proudly declared she is going to lose weight, commit to daily flossing, walk the dog every night after work, and train for a 5K. She seems so confident and radiant that you can almost picture the moment she crosses the finish line with a rainbow of color spray painted on her clothing wearing psychedelic, knee-high socks! Fast forward to mid-February. You bump into her in the break room as she’s polishing off the last mystery square of chocolate from a heart shaped Valentine’s box the size of a planet and wonder what the hell happened!
Sometimes we get so caught up in the moment that we make a bunch of resolutions at once. While I’m always a big proponent of incorporating positive daily habits into our lives, often what happens as a result of throwing too many things at the wall at one time, is that you end up with nothing sticking at all. A more sustainable approach over the long haul is to pick one thing to focus on that will make the greatest impact to your life overall by accomplishing it and stick with it.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” We often undervalue the importance of developing a strategy to accomplish a goal. All the positive mindset hacks in the world will only feel good in the moment if you fail to couple it with a plan of action. I often use a white board when strategizing action plans. This helps to see the big picture but also to “chunk” it down into manageable, bite-sized pieces based on my timeline.
Life is full of more distractions than at any other time in recorded history. If you want to succeed at changing aspects of your life, you’re going to need to put on the blinders, focus on the task at hand, and commit to seeing it through. It’s that simple, even if it’s not easy. So, put down your smart phone, lace up the trainers, and hit the trail. The dog isn’t going to walk himself after all.
Let’s be realists for a moment, shall we? Biggest Loser aside, it probably isn’t realistic to think you’re going to lose 30 lbs in one week or really be able to spend upwards of four hours each day in the gym. Outside of an exclusive ranch and a private chef is real life with real jobs and real little humans demanding to be tended to every day leaving limited time to squeeze in an hour-long spin class let alone 4 hours! Start with something doable and sustainable over the long run like swapping out the crispy chicken wrap from the corner café in favor of a big green salad you brought from home. Or set a goal for a nightly 30-minute, brisk walk around your neighborhood. Remember the dog?
Unless you’re a complete freak of nature, you likely didn’t develop a bad habit or put on 50 lbs overnight. It took time to arrive in the state you’re in and it will take time to reverse it as well. Patience is a virtue here. Often, it’s not one drastic measure that changes your life; rather, it’s a combination of little things added up over time that form the big picture of success.
There is strength in numbers and there is also shame in slacking! For this reason, you are more likely to accomplish your goals when you’ve told at least one other person of your desire to make a change in a given area. Today, social media makes being accountable easier than ever before. Now, I’m not advocating posting a litany of every morsel you consume, but consider that your next status update might also be serving to motivate another while holding your own sneaker-clad feet to the fire.
You know who you are. No middle ground, no getting back on the horse after you fall off, and no 50 shades of grey for you – it’s black or white baby! I have a very close friend who will faithfully and quite successfully follow a popular diet regimen for a while. Things will be going great when suddenly she hits a snag in the form of a crushingly stressful day in her business and later seeks solace in a bowl of chips and salsa. Next thing you know, she says “screw it, I’m out” and the rest is history. The thing is, all isn’t lost because you fell off the wagon! You can get right back on with your next meal or club soda with lime.
This can perhaps be the biggest obstacle to overcome. Often rooted in childhood, limiting beliefs can keep us stuck in a story we may not even be aware of. If you have ever said any of the following to yourself or someone else, you may be struggling with limiting beliefs:
I’m just big-boned.
I come from a long line of alcoholics.
Everyone in my family is poor.
I’m not talented enough.
I need more education.
I’m just an intro/extrovert.
I never follow through on anything.
This is just the way I am.
Who am I to be happy?
These are just a few examples of the lies we believe that can really impede our progress and hinder our success when it comes to not only setting goals, but also achieving them. These can be unwittingly passed on for several generations and be tough to recognize and work through. Believing we are worthy of happiness and good health are key and sometimes, we may need the help of a trained therapist or coach to break through barriers and create lifelong change. Recognize that you need assistance and take action to assemble the right team to help you on this journey.
Whatever your New Year’s tradition is, and whether you choose to make any resolutions for the coming year, I believe the end of the year offers us the perfect time to do a little self-reflection. Sometimes, we surprise ourselves and find out that we didn’t do too shabby after all. Other times, we recognize where we could’ve aimed a little higher. And that’s the good news: a new year means we get another chance to step up to the plate and give it a good swing if we choose. If you choose not to, that’s cool too. But you better plan your sacrificial offering now, just in case. I hear Janus likes Garnets.