The arrival of each new year is thought of as a “new beginning” — a chance to start over, set goals, wipe the slate clean. For some, it’s as simple as having a better year than the one before. For others, the goal is to lose weight, volunteer for a charity, adopt a pet, run a marathon or climb Mount Everest — thus fulfilling a lifelong dream.
But do we really need Jan. 1 in order to be on the path of accomplishment and progress? Or is a New Year’s resolution just a set-up for failure — a pipe dream?
The practice of making resolutions for a new year is thought to have started with the ancient Babylonians, who made promises to earn the favor of the gods, and begin a new year on the right foot. They would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.
Paying off debts and returning anything borrowed is a great resolution today. Living debt-free and being in good favor with others is a gift to yourself. It must have worked for the Babylonians — we are still following their lead, and making resolutions today.
Losing weight is a popular resolution — I’ve done it myself. The holiday season has become for many a time to relax our standards and really enjoy socializing and all that comes with it, including the consumables and their calories.
We know we have to pay the price later, and that’s OK with us. Just walk into any gym on Jan. 2 — there’s not a treadmill or elliptical machine available. Faces are sweaty and determined — goals have been re-set and a brand-new physique and healthier lifestyle lies just ahead.
For me, I begin the doubts immediately, as in: I can never eat bread or pasta again, starting Jan. 1? I’ve found that giving up something I enjoy and testing my willpower daily is a recipe for failure. Unless there’s a personal chef involved, for those like me who work many hours each week, this resolution is a tough one.
Resolutions need to be realistic goals. Once I realized I’m stressed by the promises of Jan. 1 rather than motivated by them, I gave up the notion of resolutions entirely.
Psychology professor Peter Herman of the University of Toronto has identified what he calls the “false hope syndrome,” meaning the resolution an individual makes is very unrealistic and out of alignment with that person’s internal view of himself or herself, according to Psychology Today.
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This principle extends to those who make positive affirmations without success. When you make affirmations about yourself that you don’t really believe, not only don’t they work — they can harm your self-worth.
Tiny adjustments throughout the year make a difference, too.
If you are motivated by a “ready, set, go!” lifestyle, then a resolution may work well for you. But if the impending date or the daunting task you’ve put on yourself brings stress, not motivation, it’s not the best route for you. Any resolution or goal made without a thought-out plan to achieve it will be a waste of time. Goals are not achieved by a declaration on Jan 1. Goals are achieved through effort. This is true of anything in life.
For those energized by the thought of setting and reaching a goal — with Jan. 1 as your catalyst — go for it, with a positive attitude and a happy heart.
For the rest of us, continue on with yearlong efforts. Tiny adjustments throughout the year make a difference, too. With the mentality of the Little Engine That Could, just keep chugging along.
Happy 2017, whichever type you are!
Lisa Ferrari is a freelance writer in Nottingham, New Hampshire.