And I’ll admit it: once upon a time, and for more years than I’d like to remember, I did them, too.
But now, I no longer make New Year resolutions.
For one thing, those January determinations always ended up being pretty much the same ones, every single year, and also pretty much ended up not how I had hoped they would.
At the top of the list, always, was dropping a few pounds, followed closely by eating less and exercising more. There has also been a desire to be kinder and more forgiving, and for those closest to me, I know I still have to work harder
on the latter. And although I’m a lifetime worrier, I’m aware, too, that reining in this part of my personality would make me way less anxious, and probably way more happy, all around.
I didn’t stop my resolutions only because they didn’t stick.
They always did—for a little while.
There was the year I faithfully sprinkled flax seed on nearly everything I ate, even though it tasted like crunchy dirt. Most recently, and this particular tweak actually lasted for a couple of years, I faithfully attended Zumba classes twice a week. Even a dance dork like me could do most of the moves, and I absolutely felt more energetic.
But I obviously wasn’t that committed, because when the teacher quit due to health issues, I made no effort to look for any new classes.
As it turns out, this sort of maybe-I-will, maybe-I-won’t attitude about New Year’s resolutions is how a lot of other people operate, too.
A few years back, Dr. John Norcross, a leading university researcher on New Year’s behavior (nope, I’m not making this up), had two assistants call hundreds of potential participants for a study about January resolutions. All of the calls were made over the last five days in December, with 400 people eventually agreeing to take part.
Based on their responses, Norcross then divided those folks into three groups.
The first group said they never made resolutions. The second admitted that they didn’t necessarily make resolutions in January, but thought they might later in the year. The third said they were definitely planning on making resolutions at the New Year.
Focusing on the latter two groups, here’s what Norcross discovered.
With the group who thought that resolutions might be best made later in the year, he found that two weeks after making those determinations, more than half were sticking to them. Yet six months later, only four percent were successful.
But with the group that made their resolutions at the New Year, 71 percent were successful after two weeks. Perhaps even more astonishing, 46 percent remained committed at the six-month mark.
In other words, those who made their resolutions in January were 10 times more likely to keep them than the people who made their resolutions at other times in the year.
While no one knows exactly why this is so, perhaps it’s because the New Year creates a sort of “pocket” for our mass culture—the most popular time for Americans to stop, think and reflect about making positive changes. It really is a time that the rest of the year doesn’t necessarily accommodate.
It may also be that by being mindful right about now, those who stay committed to their goals come to find out that long-term success truly doesn’t have much to do with super-human, teeth grinding willpower. In fact, given that this sort of resolve is supposed to be in motion 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it is, simply, impossible to maintain.
Instead, those who stuck to their programs probably realized it was all about accomplishing small goals and
small wins, which are generally easier to stick to. Consequently, these little changes often end up the more
lasting ones, which also does the most good. (Learn more about Norcross’s study with this entertaining
video, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqbAsr6wN_I.)
Then, there are folks like me.
While I’m no longer a card-carrying member of the New Year Resolutions Brigade, this doesn’t mean that I’ve completely given up on trying to be A Better Human Being.
So, for the second January in a row, I have tried something else, something that Norcross and his team didn’t study.
I have surrendered.
This doesn’t mean being a wimp, and lying down whenever an obstacle rears its head. Rather, armed with grace and humor, I try to be aware and open to whatever changes, good and bad and in-between, the coming year will bring.
In my world, this translates into relinquishing my tight grip on what I think I should do, and instead, try to flow with, be open to, and most of all, enjoy what’s happening along the way. Given that the only constant in life is change, I’m finally recognizing that life is (and always has been) a little less clear, a little less clean, and a little less controlled that I’d like it to be.
In fact, to be human means that not only will our circumstances change, it’s also okay to allow ourselves to be changed by them. By letting go of the old, we can also make way for the new, and at the same time, perhaps even try to “re-pattern” negative habits. Of course, it’s easy to resent the changes (especially, most especially, the ones that I don’t initiate) that come my way.
So, instead, I am trying my best to looking forward to “re-weaving” all sorts of new journeys… filled with wonder, surprises and smiles.
It’s really the only resolution I need.
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories!