A New Look at New Year’s Resolutions

As the clock ticks towards the final countdown of 2011, people all over the world tick off the litany of resolutions they hope to realize in the New Year. Since the Babylonians pioneered the concept of New Year’s Resolutions in 2000 BC, humankind has put its faith in the promise of a new year. Even though January 1st has no more restorative power than December 1st or August 31st, the day has become the panacea for all perceived insecurities, inadequacies and failures.  It has become the restart button.

However, for all the optimism and hope that surrounds New Year’s, we must ask if resolutions are actually a positive influence on your mental health. The answer is both yes and no. For while it is important to pursue self-examination and self-improvement, New Year’s may not be the best time to start these efforts.

The tradition of New Year’s Resolutions forces an inauthentic timeline on self-improvement. The process starts inorganically and comes from external, societal pressure instead of internal impetus. Similarly, Resolutions sparked around the New Year usually reflect the holiday season: a desire to lose the pounds packed on from figgy pudding and eggnog, or the need to balance spending after splurging on presents for underneath the tree. These resolutions do not reflect the specific person and their individual needs, but instead general holiday trends.

The success rate of New Year’s Resolution supports this artificiality.  The ball that drops down in Times Square acts as an oversized metaphor for the millions who drop the ball on their New Year’s Resolutions. According to Steve Shapiro, only 8% of New Year’s Resolutions are ever realized. In fact, the Province reports that 75% of resolutions are broken after the first week, 71% after two weeks, and 64 % after one month. These aren’t exactly encouraging statistics. Instead, they prove the trap that New Year’s Resolutions set up. What starts as bouts of optimism soon turns into frustration, disappointment, or disinterest.

That isn’t to discourage you from making New Year’s Resolutions. When initiated with positivity and realism, New Year’s Resolutions can be a great catalyst for self-improvement. However instead of focusing on negative goals that tie your self-esteem to weight loss or dating success, pledge to improve yourself in ways that are fun, positive, and manageable.  One way to do this is to set both short-term and long-term goals. Think of resolutions that can be fulfilled the very next day, such as sending out your holiday thank you’s on time or submitting a piece to our arousal art contest! The instant gratification of a resolution realized will create a positive feedback loop to encourage further success.

Shapiro reports that “the less happy you are, the more likely you are to set New Year’s Resolutions.” Thus, if you feel yourself itching towards resolutions, ask yourself why.  Look critically at your goals and assess whether they seem like improvements, or punishments. If these resolutions seem to focus on past failures–weight gain, broken relationships, etc.–then know they may not be the best focus for the New Year. Instead, start a project that will build self-esteem. For instance, let the New Year inspire you to take a new class, volunteer at a new foundation,  or start a new art project. After all, if the Mayans are right and 2012 is really our last year on earth, wouldn’t you rather spend it on self-enhancement instead self-criticism and restriction?

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