New Year, New You? Eh. But Fear Not: There Is Hope!

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New Year, New You? Eh. But Fear Not: There Is Hope!

Casey Bacon, Senior Head Editor

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“5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Happy New Year!” Down drops the ball in Times Square, off pops the corks of champagne and sparkling cider bottle, up go the fireworks, and in go the people for hugs, kisses, and well-wishes for the year to come. It’s the turning over of a new leaf, the possibility for anything to happen within the next year; most of us might be, for better or worse, in entirely different places than we were last year and could have expected to be at this point last year. What else accompanies the dawn of a new year? Nothing less than the vow to change that what we can’t stand about ourselves, and see ourselves abide by it for, if we’re really dedicated, a whole six weeks before giving into that brownie, choosing sleep over that morning run, caving back to that caffeine fix in the morning, or splurging over half of that next paycheck on the new flat screen that would look greeeeeat over the new console you just bought. Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme. The point is, many a New Year’s resolutions are made with the honest intention of holding true to them, but seem to never be able to hold true to them. So why make them- what’s the reason to continue the tradition if they never seem to stick in the first place? And how on earth can we, heaven forbid, make them last the length of the year? It’s a little more than stern dedication and self-loathing for screw-ups.

While you might think that the tradition has roots that reach far back into the depths of history, that in relation to our modern vows is one that’s a little reaching. The earliest records of celebration of the New Year’s arrival stretches back about 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. They marked it with the emergence of the new moon after the vernal equinox- usually a day late in March comprised of equal parts sunlight and darkness. Reportedly, it was these people who made promises to the gods in the hopes that they’d earn good favor in the coming year, becoming the earliest predecessor (or something in the like) to our present-day custom. Throughout history, civilizations around the globe began to create increasingly sophisticated calendars, usually sticking the first day of the year with an agricultural or astronomical event. Rome also celebrated the New Year with celebrations, and it’s their traditions that we can most thank for the calendar year that we follow. Initially, because they were such a militarily-driven society, they marked the beginning of the year in March- a month associated with Mars, the god of war. Over time, the Romans deemed that it would be January that marks the start of the year, the month that they connected with Janus, the god of home and hearth; thus, also showing the shift in values that were placed on the start of a new year. Historians have yet to find any solid link between ancient Rome’s traditions and the modern New Year’s resolutions of today (save the transition on the calendar that we now follow), however, the desire to start anew has been a prevalent one in the history of western civilization; for instance, the Methodist custom started by John Wesley in 1740, known as Covenant Renewal Services, was held during the winter holiday season- especially New Year’s- as an alternative to holiday partying, where members can sing, pray, reflect on the year, and renew their covenant with God.

Of course, today’s idea of New Year’s celebrations are widely secular, but the point is still the same: it’s an observance that’s deeply ingrained into our American culture, the annual resolutions of improvement going hand-in-hand with such. In the same breath, it’s to be noted that the driving reason for these pledges have changed in themselves as time has passed. “In the old days,” explained psychologist Alex Hedger, “people would often try to get pleasant feelings and reduce unpleasant ones from religious ceremonies (i.e. baptisms). [But] in an increasingly less religious world, other milestones such as New Year’s Eve are increasingly symbolic in our minds as triggers for turning over a new leaf.’” On the whole, our vows of change that we make have, and always have been, “a triumph of hope over experience.” David Klow, a licensed therapist, defines it as “a powerful desire to want to change, and momentous times such as the New Year are opportunities to step into new ways of being.”

Sounds awfully starry-eyed when put like that, huh? Seems as if more and more people are beginning to feel that way. A 2013 CBS News report found that 68% of people don’t make New Year’s resolutions, a figure that was 10% higher only the year before. In the same study, interestingly enough, people who were under the age of 30 were more likely to make resolutions than the older folks- and yet, only about half of those who make them will even moderately keep their promises. This decline is only climbing as time goes on: according to a new study published by the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45% of Americans normally make a New Year’s resolution, but only 8% are ever actually successful in these. Researchers are able to attribute this to a few different causes, but they also have fortunately proposed solutions to these potential hang-ups.

 

  • Overly-ambitious goals can be killer. While the intentions are golden on your decision to change, no doubt, setting your sights too high can ruin your resolution before it even starts. Setting your sights too high makes it instantly unattainable; so while it’s great that you want to end world hunger or drop that 50 lbs. by February, take a step back and ask yourself: if this is really possible? Amy Applebaum, a life success coach, advises that you ought to “examine your resolutions. Are they what you really want or did you commit to them because you thought you were supposed to?” If you’ve honest conviction to uphold this, then start with small steps, and take your resolution day by day to reach a place you can be happy with.
  • Going it alone might not be too wise. Two is always better than one, yeah? If you’re taking on something like losing weight, knocking off a bad habit, or bettering your cycling time, go in it with strong support behind you. “Surround yourself with people who inspire you to be more, do more, and have more,” recommends The Mojo Coach Debi Silber. Though word of caution in this: be sure to choose those who will support you in your goal, not drain you of energy or keep you from accomplishing it. On the whole, this will give you a sense of accountability, further keeping you on track with someone pushing you to stick to the resolution.
  • Giving up too easily- the downfall of most. This might mark one of the most likely breakers of resolutions. We’ve all been there: going into January first with the utmost of confidence that “I’m going to do this, by December, I’ll be an entirely changed individual!”- six weeks in, and we don’t even want to remember what it was that we decided to change in the first place. “Many people make their resolutions with a genuine belief that they can accomplish them,” asserts Andrew Schrage, founder of Money Crasher, a reputable blog on financial health, “but come February the excitement wears off and other priorities begin to take precedence.” To combat this, professionals suggest that you try to set smaller benchmarks across the year- monthly, weekly, ect. This will help to keep you on track throughout the year, and give you the chance to enable positive re-enforcement to keep the momentum going.
  • It’s all about the money, money, money? We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees, but that the world might be a lot more accessible if it did. For some, the cost of keeping up with their resolutions in the span of a year is discouraging in itself. Getting in  shape, for instance, may necessitate a gym membership, while the food that’s better for you is also the food that’s more expensive.This one may require a bit of inventiveness, but the best solution is to get creative and find less expensive ways to complete your goals.
  • Planning is everything. Without that, you’re walking in the blind trying to complete your goal- which isn’t ever exactly the best way to go about something. Most people set themselves up for failure, according to most experts, because they’ll commit to a resolution at the beginning of the year, but do so fully knowing that they have to plan in place to actually achieve it. Karena and Katrina, personal trainers and founders of the self-improvement website ToneItUp.com, suggest “break[ing] your end goal down into smaller, weekly goals so that you’re working towards something immediate, and make a calendar with something to do every day that will get you closer to your desired result.”
  • “Lying is an elementary means of self-defense.” Going back to a means of feasibility, it’s important to ask yourself if you can fully commit yourself to achieving your resolution: can you really shape yourself up to running that marathon, or hold strong to your resolve to quit your “needed” bowl of ice cream at night, or keep to playing nice with those coworkers you couldn’t get along with if you were given a suitcase of cash? “Oftentimes,” says Applebaum, “ we find ourselves committing to things because we think we should. Don’t waste your time with that. You will only be disappointed in yourself. Make resolutions you actually want to achieve because you really want to and are actually going to put a plan of action towards.” Honesty really is the best policy, folks- your resolution is for yourself before anyone else, so make sure you can stay honest to stay focused.
  • No confidence, no reward. As said, your resolution is for you before anyone else. So if you’re feeling discouraged, be sure to applaud yourself for what you have accomplished so far instead of what you haven’t achieved just yet. “Congratulate yourself for your progress,” encourages psychoanalyst Barbara Neitlich. “The problem is that many individuals have a very black and white attitude. They see it as either you have achieved your goal or you have failed, but there is a grey area.” Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach your goals, either. “Rather,” Neitlich says, “congratulate and reward yourself for making the effort towards your goal. That will give you the energy and stamina you need to continue achieving your initial goal.”

 

Are these definites to guarantee the success of your resolutions? Well, not quite. There is a requirement of a certain dedication to change. Rest assured, though: just because you may have slipped a week in February, that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your resolution entirely. Everyone makes mistakes and slip-ups- the important part is getting back up and getting back at it. For that matter, why wait until a specific day to make those changes? Jenny Taitz, a clinical psychologist with The American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, argues that “a resolution, or a decision to wait until a certain day to change, gives you some time to keep doing whatever negative habit you’re enjoying, and also alleviates some guilt that you have a plan to change.” So, whether you’re deciding to make a change in a resolution or not, cheers to the possibilities that are endlessly open in the coming year, and here’s to the hope to make the very most of it.

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