• Pamela Froman

New Year's Resolutions

It's a New Year and for many people that is a time to recreate themselves and their lives. Reflect on your past year’s behavior and promise to make positive changes – make a New Year's resolution. Maybe you want to spend more time with family, get in shape, or learn something new. So many people participate in this “ritual,” yet many are never able to follow through.

The New Year's resolution is a practice that has been around since ancient times. Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. In the Medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. During Judaism's New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one reflects on wrongdoings over the year and seeks and offers forgiveness.

In January, setting grand goals is easy and even expected. It's socially acceptable to dream big, after all 45 percent of people make New Year resolutions. So what are some of the most common?

Weight loss and exercising more are the most frequent resolutions. You've told yourself you are going to eat right and head out to the gym, but unfortunately this determination usually lasts just a few weeks and you soon go back to unhealthy lifestyle. It's all too often that gym passes go idle by February.

Smoking is a terrible habit. It's bad for you, it makes your teeth yellow, your clothes stink, it is annoying for your non-smoker friends and – last but not least – it costs an arm and a leg. Many smokers do realize these drawbacks and their resolution is to quit. But smoking is a hard habit to break and unfortunately only about 10 percent of those who make the resolution will keep it for at least six months.

If you've ever experienced a bad hangover you might make your goal to quit booze altogether. There is a considerable amount of people who make a New Year resolution to stop (or at least cut down on) drinking. However like smoking, alcohol consumption is extremely difficult to stop.

Are you stuck in a workplace rut? You're not alone. Most people will tell you they are unhappy with their jobs. As such, its not that surprising that 10 percent of Americans make resolutions to turn a new leaf and find a new position. Success on that front is up to you.

Money matters are also a popular resolution. Improving finances is a resolution that about 14 percent of people make every year. But paying off debts is hard to accomplish and keeping this resolution often requires a major change in lifestyle and creature comforts. That is something many people don’t want to give up.

Time management and better organization is another important thing many people wish to improve and the New Year is the perfect time to start working on it. Better organization can help you save time and make your life easier.

Spending time with loved ones is a priority and the beginning of the year is an ideal time to hang with the kids or reconnect with family that you haven’t seen in a while. Improving a relationship with a family member is an admirable goal and family time is crucial. This is a endgame you should try to keep!

Stress is obviously something people want to reduce. Keeping your zen sounds like a natural and reasonable resolution but it is very often difficult, with only about 5 percent of people actually following through. In fact, stressing less is likely to be the very first resolution you’ll break.

You'll take care of that unpleasant task...eventually. Procrastination, the practice of doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, is a serious problem which leads to stress, anxiety, a sense of guilt and crisis, and even health problems. No wonder quitting this habit is among the most popular New Year resolutions.

One of the first things we tend to think of in a New Year are the exotic destinations and foreign countries we would love to visit. It's feels like the perfect opportunity to expand our horizons. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that we need the money for more mundane activities and our travel wish list is just that, a wish.

Learning a new language is a lofty goal and it is actually one of the more successful resolutions that people actually keep. It's especially helpful if you choose a language that is easy to learn.

Reducing your screen time is also a popular resolution. Spending too much time on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter is a considerable problem for surprising number of people these days. But even if you know you have this issue, it can be very difficult to reduce the time spent on social media. For many people, logging in and posting or checking on their friends activities is something they do multiple times a day. In addition, cutting screen time is crucial to stopping procrastination, and that includes watching shows online or time exploring websites.

January is the perfect time to clean out your closet. After all out with the old, in with the new! Despite having pieces you are attached to, organizing your clothing and chucking unneeded stuff will help you gain a sense of accomplishment.

Volunteering to help others, practice life skills, use civic virtue, give to charity, or volunteering to work part-time in a charity organization is also a popular resolution.

Why is it so difficult for us to keep our resolutions?

When you've experienced something that was pleasurable or rewarding, you are much more likely to keep engaging that behavior. Fun activities (like binging Netflix, browsing social media, or any host of other distractions) can stop you from meeting your goal. 

Resolutions need to be challenging enough to make the effort but easy enough to keep you motivated. People tend to set goals and then rely on pure willpower – which is hard to keep up!

Have you ever noticed that in January many brands step up their advertising? They are capitalizing on our New Year's resolutions. Brands work with seasonality in multiple ways. They spend a lot of time and money creating custom ads just for the holidays, including New Year's ads. Fitness trackers and smart watches, gym memberships, healthy foods, and all of your classic resolution-related themes jump in the deep end all trying to appeal to your resolutions!

These tips will help bolster your New Year's resolution success:

To successfully achieve a goal, break it down into smaller chunks. Smaller steps along the way allow a sense of accomplishment, and that helps your brain create and retain a habit. Replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones takes time. Don’t get overwhelmed and think that you have to reorganize everything. Work toward change one step at a time.

For example, if your aim is to exercise more, work out three or four days a week at the gym instead of plunging into seven. If you would like to eat healthier, replace that fattening dessert with something else you enjoy, like fruit or yogurt.

You should record your progress. Seeing improvement and tracking your successes over time is rewarding. Whether through a graph or a journal, you need to be able to reflect on how far you have come. You should be proud of yourself!

Feedback and incentives can go a long way. Make sure you spoil yourself with some sort of positive recognition or reward during the process...and not just at the end. Small gifts or celebrations along the way are more likely to keep you motivated. Share your experiences with family and friends. Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey easier and less intimidating.

Linking your goal to who you are as a person, your beliefs, and your values is what can make it stick. If your goal is to spend less time watching television, frame the goal like this: "I will spend less time watching television because I value my friends and family and believe it is more important to pay attention to them than to the TV." Then repeat that phrasing regularly to keep the goal in the forefront of your mind.

Perfection is unattainable. Minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and it's okay to slip up. Everyone has ups and downs, so recover from your mistakes and get right back on track.

Accepting help from those who care about you strengthens your resilience and the ability to manage stress caused by your resolution. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking professional help. Psychologists can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotions.

Finally, your goal should be socially grounded; if your goal helps others, causes others to rely on you, or is reinforced and encouraged by others, you are more likely to stick to it. The more your resolution is positively reinforced, the more likely you are to keep it.

Happy 2019!

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