Last year was not a good one for me – I lost someone close to me to cancer, was professionally frustrated, financially strapped, and entangled in a highly dysfunctional relationship. In fact, I couldn’t wait to see the back of 2011. That’s why, after a fittingly festive New Year’s Eve party, I woke up feeling liberated and exhilarated on the morning of the first, and ruminated on my blissfully blank slate and my list of resolutions for the year ahead.
‘The beginning of the year offers a fresh start,’ says business coach Nona Jordan, who believes there’s a lot to be said for making New Year resolutions. ‘The fact that people keep making resolutions even when they don’t always follow through ultimately means that they have hope and a certain level of belief in their ability to change and be more of who they really want to be.’
But recent studies have found the vast majority of resolution makers renege on their good intentions. ‘Six weeks after people make their New Year’s resolutions, 80 percent have either broken them or couldn’t remember what they were,’ says Marti Hope Gonzales, associate professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota. Even worse, failing in our self-made goals ultimately reinforces feelings of low self-esteem, say psychologists. So why do we even bother to continue making them year after year?
Perhaps because Jordan is right: there’s nothing like the feeling of a blank slate; a chance to reinvent yourself, clear out, let go. Yes, we might break our resolutions after the first month … or week … or day … or even 12 hours, but at least we have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to dream, to feel new again – why deny ourselves that?
But research shows that’s not the only reason to keep with this ancient tradition*: people who make resolutions are more likely to become the person they wish to be than those who never resolve to change. One recent study found that 46 percent of people who set resolutions achieved their goals, in contrast to just four percent who expressed the desire to change but did not set themselves any targets or devise any strategies to reach them.
In short – to get anywhere in life we need to at least start. Rather than abandoning the ritual of New Year resolutions altogether, why not rather focus on strategies that may help us to keep them? It’s only through trying that we eventually succeed. As William Arthur Ward said: ‘If you can imagine it, you can create it. If you dream it, you can become it.’
*The concept of new year resolutions is an ancient one: the Babylonians made it a priority to return borrowed items and settle the debts at the start of each new year, while the Romans began each anum by pledging vows to the god Janus.