We just celebrated new year and many people may be already asking “how are you doing on your New Year’s resolution?” You may be asking yourself, “why do we make these silly resolutions anyway?” It’s probably a combination of having high hopes of accomplishing a dream mixed with the need to follow along in a ritual that dates back to ancient times.
Roughly 4,000 years ago the Babylonians would celebrate their new year in March and made promises to the gods to earn good favor. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar moved the first day of the year to January 1 in honor of the Roman god of beginnings, Janus. Eventually those promises to the gods became promises we would make to ourselves to improve our lives.
The notion that we can accomplish a dream each year simply by telling ourselves we will change may seem far-fetched, yet more than 88% of Americans will make a resolution to begin the new year. Often the resolution is centered on overall health. Whether you vow to start eating healthy in the new year, to begin exercising regularly, make or save more money or get a better job, somehow our goals are often never achieved. Why is that?
It may be that people set too high an expectation on accomplishing a dream like the ones listed above. Or perhaps it’s because we find it too easy to give up. The latest diet trends are too strict, there’s not enough time to squeeze in that workout, or finding a new job is just impossible in this economy. There’s a lot of advice about how to keep a resolution, but perhaps the best way to ensure some measure of success is to cut yourself a little slack.
First, don’t set a goal that you are very unlikely to achieve. You may want to quit smoking, but that is extremely hard to do. Perhaps make the resolution to cut your smoking in half. You want to lose 40 pounds? How about recognizing you’ll have an easier time if you resolve instead to start eating healthy this year. Eventually you may stop smoking or lose that 40 pounds, but you will be satisfied if you smoke a whole lot less for now, or you lose 15 pounds and feel great because you stuck to your actual resolution.
Second, vocalize your resolution. Telling people your plan can help you stick with it, especially if you tell people who will support you. And on that note, surround yourself with people who aren’t likely to sabotage your efforts.
Finally, allow yourself to stumble. If you find that you “cheated” while trying to follow one of the popular diet trends or you went on a shopping spree you shouldn’t have, don’t let that send you into a downward spiral. In other words, don’t give up. Pick yourself back up and recognize that accomplishing a dream can be hard and it may not go perfectly according to plan. Just don’t let that stumble derail you.
One simple thought. Instead of making your resolution about you, consider making it about others. You could resolve to spread a little happiness each day with a smile and a kind word for a stranger. You could resolve to help someone accomplish their goals, or you could resolve to do something good for your community, like pick up trash, shop locally, volunteer each month, or help families in need. Perhaps stepping outside of yourself might make it easier to succeed.
Navigating the ups and downs of trying to make real changes in your life isn’t easy. Be kind to yourself and you’ll have a happy new year ahead.