The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions has ancient origins. Around 4,000 years ago, Babylonians celebrated their new year by promising the gods to repay debts and return borrowed items to start the year positively. The practice of making resolutions has continued through the centuries and evolved into the modern tradition of setting personal goals and resolutions at the start of the new year.
I have had a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. Each year, I made the same resolutions and was committed to them for a month or two, but then they would fall by the wayside. The resolutions I would set had high standards, so I would fail to make them a part of my life for the long haul. I paralleled the gym experience, where it’s crowded at the beginning of the year but gradually becomes less so as time goes on. What is it about resolutions that make them so difficult to maintain?
The all-or-nothing mindset can quiet the initial burst of motivation. This mindset involves believing that if perfection can’t be maintained, it constitutes failure, leading to giving up rather than embracing the process. Resolutions can create internal pressures, making individuals feel obligated to set goals even if they’re not ready or willing to make changes. Often, we set overly ambitious goals for ourselves, which can lead to frustration and feed a sense of failure. We become impatient and abandon our resolutions prematurely, forgetting that change takes time and results may take time to be visible.
I have realized that my resolutions were often tied to external factors, such as societal expectations and influences. They weren’t resolutions that spoke to who I wanted to be. My resolutions usually needed to address the root cause as to why I was making the resolution. I was focused on surface-level behaviors rather than addressing the underlying causes of habits.
As a result, I have changed how I approach the new year. The resolutions have mostly been replaced with a fresh start mentality, focusing on the here and now and letting go. It gives me renewed motivation and aligns with my values that help me stay true to myself. By cultivating a more balanced and realistic mindset, I can stay focused on personal growth that positively impacts my personal and professional life.
For those who appreciate the tradition of New Year’s resolutions, here are ways to set and sustain resolutions successfully.
- Choose a specific, achievable goal. Instead of resolving to become more active, which is ambiguous, maybe set a goal to walk 20 minutes, three days a week.
- Limit your resolutions. Focus on one goal at a time. Achieving a goal can boost your self-confidence.
- Avoid repeating past failures. I had the same resolution year after year for years, but it lacked specificity. I may have achieved the goal but didn’t view it as a success because I wasn’t specific enough.
- Remember that change is a process. When we center our resolutions on the undesirable or unhealthy habits we aim to change, we overlook that these habits take years to form and will require time and effort to transform. We need to be patient; if we make a misstep or two, we can always get back on board.
- Get support. Engage in community activities that will support your goal. Develop the camaraderie that will help you stay accountable. If comfortable, share your resolution with friends and/or family to help you achieve your goal.
- Learn and adapt. A setback is one of the main reasons people abandon their resolution, but setbacks are part of the process. When embraced, setbacks can be a great learning opportunity for “resolution resilience.”
Whether we aspire to enhance our well-being, pursue new opportunities, or foster meaningful connections, the essence of a New Year’s resolution lies in the destination and the continuous evolution of who we are becoming. Here’s to a year of growth, resilience, and pursuing our most authentic selves. Happy New Year!