Breaking resolutions completely normal: Rebecca Wallersteiner looks at new international research which suggest that breaking New Year Resolutions is something to be celebrated as an expression of spontaneity.
We are only a few days into the New Year and many of us have made New Year resolutions. If you’ve already broken them don’t feel a failure for your lack of self-control. New research suggests that more than half of New Year resolutions fail and we should regard our lack of will power as something normal and even to be indulged. When you reach for a glass of wine, a bag of crisps, or chocolate this is simply an expression of conflict between your two “selves” the prefect and the rule breaker and perhaps surprisingly it is the rule breaker that usually wins.
In a study published last year in the journal Behavioural Public Policy by the Cambridge University Press, researchers write, “Self-control failure occurs when an individual experiences a conflict between immediate desires and longer-term goals, recognises psychological forces that hinder goal-directed action, tries to resist them but fails in the attempt.” The researchers found that most of us are inconsistent and value spontaneity in responding to our desires almost as much as we value do self-control in achieving our goals.
The most broken New Year resolutions are losing weight, spending less, giving up drinking and doing more exercise. Women and Millennials are most likely to set resolutions.
Richard Wiseman, professor in the public understanding of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire recommends not re-listing failed resolutions from previous years unless you come up with a very different strategy for keeping them. Instead of working in chunks, focus on a single resolution, with a plan that you can break into smaller segments to “nudge” you towards different healthier behaviour. Wiseman advises against having a “vague goal” such as losing weight, learning a new language, or even taking up a new sport. It is much better to make a concrete plan such as going swimming at 6pm every Thursday evening, or running at 10am every Saturday morning and helping yourself stick to it. According to Wiseman people who set themselves single goals had an average success rate of 35%, while those who set themselves more ambitious wider goals had only a 50% chance of success.
Being more mindful can help you stick to your resolutions If you are struggling to cope with the pressures of hospital work “mindfulness” – paying more attention to the present moment can help you deal with the stress and feel happier and more positive in 2023. We often race through life forgetting to pay attention to our own thoughts and feelings and the world around us and soon yet another year has flown past. Many people find it difficult to still their minds and become more aware of the present moment and stream of thoughts, bodily sensations and feelings – as worries about work or relationships begin flooding in. Set aside five minutes every day to sit silently and observe your thoughts, emotions and what is going on inside your body. Some people find it easier to still their minds when they are walking. Try to notice the world around you more – it can be as simple as the sound and smell of rain, a full moon, or the blueish light when snow is in the air. Vary your route from time to time to help you see things afresh.
New Year Resolutions are 4,000 years old
New Year Resolutions go back to ancient times. Historically the first recorded people to set New Year pledges (later to become known as resolutions) were the Ancient Babylonians at least 4,000 years ago. To curry favour with the gods, they promised to repay their debts and return borrowed objects during a 12-day festival called Akitu (starting with the vernal equinox) to celebrate the renewal of life. The Babylonians were more likely to keep their resolutions than modern people because they believed a broken promise would mean angering the gods and bringing bad luck into your life for the next twelve months. Unlike our tradition of starting a new year on 1st January, the Babylonian year began in mid-March which is understandable as this was the time of the year when crops were planted and the world bloomed afresh.
The Babylonian New Year was adopted by the ancient Romans, as was the tradition of resolutions, but the time moved with the Julian calendar in 46 B.C. which chose January 1st as the beginning of the new year. January was named after the two-faced god Janus, who faces forward for new beginnings as well as looking backward for meditation and resolution. The Romans would offer sacrifices to Janus and promises to behave better for the next twelve months.
Accept who you are
Above all don’t obsess about past failures, but focus on new resolutions instead. And remember that you don’t need to turn over a new leaf on 1st January, but can take up a new hobby, lose weight, go to the gym, or save more at any time of the year.
Happy New Year!