New Years Resolutions: While making them may be like Paving Hell, even the government is encouraging

Dr. Rick MillerDr. Rick Miller

The celebration of the New Year is perhaps the oldest of all holidays. Our first recorded history of this celebration comes from ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago and included the still common practice of making New Year’s resolutions. In fact, you may be one of the many who are still thinking about what your new year’s resolution will be this year, or you could be one of those who have a standing New Year’s resolution that you commit to each year. Some of the more common resolutions are: achieving educational goals, getting out of debt, travel, and spending more time with one’s family. The early Babylonians’ most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. Today people often choose healthrelated resolutions, e.g., diet or exercise, and those are often the most difficult to keep. To try and stop smoking or over-eating, or drinking are complicated because there are physiological aspects to those bad habits that require more than just desire in order for change to occur.

Resolve and motivation can waste away in the light of convenience, whether it is fast food or gas-powered transportation.

Mark Twain called New Year’s resolutions a humbug and said that “New Year’s Day… is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” “Or as Oscar Wilde quipped, “Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.” And in fact, perseverance in carrying out our resolutions is not very common. Most of us lose momentum along the way. So why do we make these resolutions in the first place? We humans may be the only animals that believe we can reinvent ourselves (or as one of my colleagues suggested, needs to). This desire to start our lives over, to mold ourselves in a more acceptable image can be seen in the mythical king of early Rome: Janus, who had two faces and could look back on past events as well as looking forward to the future.

Janus was an ancient symbol for New Year’s resolutions and many Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies at the beginning of the New Year. More recently, G. K. Chesterton expressed this need for re-invention thusly: “The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man makes New Year’s resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards.”

From a psychological point of view, it is the discrepancy between our ideal self and our actual self that fuels the process of reinvention.

If a New Year’s resolution is something that you would prefer not “go in one year and out the other,” what can you do to increase the probability that you will be able to stick to your resolve? According to psychological research, people are more successful in keeping their new year’s resolutions if they (1) take some time prior to making the resolution thinking about what they would like to change in their lives, (2) pick only one thing to work on, not several, (3) don’t keep making the same failed resolution year after year, and (4) most importantly, think about HOW you are going to keep your resolution not just about the ultimate goal of the resolution.

For suggestions on how to keep many of the more popular resolutions, the federal government, yes the federal government has a website. It is: Uncle Sam wants you to lose weight, manage your debt (not like he manages his), drink and smoke less, work out, and help others. The Office of Citizen Services and Communications provides tips on how to do these things and many more.

Alternatively, you could resolve to do things that take little or no effort. The humorist Marie Tomas suggests that men might want to resolve to never go to the mall or to regularly ignore anniversaries and birthdays (not their own of course), while women could resolve to eat chocolate on a daily basis and develop new wrinkles. Either way, with easy resolutions or government assistance, you could improve on the 90 percent failure rate that currently plagues New Year’s resolutions.