Polishing off those holiday leftovers? Binge-watching your favorite mind-numbing guilty pleasure? Peering at that gratitude journal getting dusty on your dresser? Watching that gym membership fee, you haven’t been to in months auto-deducted from your account? Again. Whatever your vice, get ready to give it up because (channel inner Mariah Carey) it’s tiiimmmeee!
That’s right, friends. Put those bad habits to rest and make way for the better version you’re promising yourself you’ll be in 2023! You are going to be better, right? That’s what we do here, right? Maybe not. Is a new year’s resolution really the best path toward self-improvement? Let’s break it down, so you’re well-informed when that ball drops.
This nonsense must be the brainchild of some devious money-making hucksters. There’s no way that something so prominent in our beliefs and behavior isn’t tied to profits.
Capitalism and diet culture have crept in and, no doubt, stand to gain from countless new commitments, but they aren’t the original culprits. The creator of 75 Hard and the writers of the Beyond Body book didn’t conspire to cook up this resolution racket.
We’re going way back for this one.
Turns out the ancient Babylonians are to blame. Thousands of years ago, they were the first civilization to record holding celebrations in honor of the new year. Theirs revolved heavily around planting the new year’s crops, which occurred in March, not January, but it did mark a new beginning and fresh start and was cause for a huge celebration.
During this time, it was customary for individuals to promise the gods that they would repay any debts or return any items they borrowed. By upholding these promises, they’d enjoy the gods’ favor for the upcoming year. If they failed, well, let’s just say the anger a pagan god exacts is slightly scarier than your sister when you haven’t returned her favorite sweater. Probably.
Next up are the Romans, who were the ones to establish the new year on January 1st. The month gets its namesake from the god Janus whose spirit inhabited doorways and entrances due to his connection with new beginnings. The god is often depicted as having two faces and was believed to have the ability to look both back into the past and forward into the future. Thinking he could see their future selves, the Romans made sacrifices to Janus promising good behavior in the new year.
Here come the Christians. They’re the ones who really brought guilt into the equation. Thanks. For early Christians, the first day of the year was an occasion for thinking about your past mistakes and failures and vowing to fix them and do better in the future.
Starting in the mid-1700s, it was common to attend Covenant Renewal Services, church services where self-reflection, repentance, and renewing your commitment to God were a way to move forward into the new year bound to your faith. Which, of course, meant you would be a better person.
The practice doesn’t have religious roots any longer. Instead of making promises to the gods, we mostly make them to ourselves. (Although, something tells us resolutions might be more effective if we feared the wrath of a pagan god or a two-faced deity that creeps our future.)
Statistics Show We’re Losing at Resolutions
Just like the sparklers we wave excitedly at midnight, our resolutions start as beautifully as we expected, but in no time, they turn into a crusty, black, ashy twig thing. Then we put them away until next year and light them up all over again.
About 64% of people admit they abandon their resolutions after only one month. This happens for a variety of reasons. Often we expect results too soon, and when they don’t happen quickly, we give up. Other factors include getting caught up in the excitement and anticipation of new things to come or we set goals that are too vast, too intense, or have no specific timeline.
A Better Way to Build Habits
While the new year feels like the perfect time to work from a clean slate, broad, sweeping changes are typically not feasible. Instead, understand that real change requires the right attitude, time, and perhaps help.
And most importantly, it doesn’t have to come at the hands of an archaic tradition rooted in angry gods and bountiful harvests.
In a large-scale study published in 2020, researchers found that approach-oriented goals were easier for participants to reach than avoidance-oriented goals. Essentially, an approach-oriented goal allows us to focus on the positive outcome, and an avoidance-oriented goal focuses on eliminating something negative.
Consider the differences between:
“I want to hit the gym to be stronger, healthier, and more confident.”
“I have to work out because I hate being fat and lethargic.”
“I will be on time because my day starts smoothly, and I’m more productive.”
“I have to stop being late because my team gets mad and judges me when I’m late.”
You can reframe almost any goal to become more approach-oriented. A slight mental shift means a potential boost in better behavior.
Setbacks Mean Stumble Not Stop
Don’t bail the first moment you fail! View a setback as a time to refocus and remind yourself of your purpose. You’ll likely gain more from redefining rather than ditching.
It Might Take a Village
Getting support for your goals may be what it takes for them to stick. Consider joining with other like-minded individuals and committing to change together. You’ll enjoy accountability and a sense that you’re not alone with merely your (fragile) willpower to rely on.
Ready to Resolve?
If you are committed to making the new year the starting line for the new you, then, by all means, go for it! Use it as your fresh start, but maybe don’t commit to a complete transformation of your entire existence.
We’re all for encouraging meaningful change, but take it easy on yourself and realize that resolution is not synonymous with revolution.