“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” — T. S. Eliot, 1888-1965
Our best holiday party research found that New Year’s resolutions are not as popular as they used to be. Aware that it was a personal question, but feeling some research was necessary, we asked friends and relatives: “What are your New Year’s resolutions?”
The response was overwhelmingly a quizzical look and a shrug followed by, “I don’t know. I never make any.” We were planning to write a column on New Year’s resolutions, so we began to worry.
Survey research indicates that only about half of us make New Year’s resolutions. Losing weight is a popular goal, as is quitting smoking and getting more exercise. Generally only around 8 percent of people who make resolutions keep them.
Blake Flannery lists some creative resolutions on his website such as losing weight by first gaining enough weight to be cast on, “The Biggest Loser.” Other resolutions included not buttering ones doughnuts and inventing an anti-gravity machine.
The first recorded New Year’s resolutions came from the Babylonians, around 4,000 years ago. According to Michael Clayton in his, “History of New Year’s Resolutions,” the Babylonian New Year began in March, which was the beginning of farming season. Many of the resolutions involved returning borrowed farm equipment or planning for the new agricultural year. The Romans, after evaluating the accomplishments of the previous year, began the New Year by setting higher goals for the coming New Year. The Chinese have an ancient tradition of beginning the New Year with a thorough housecleaning.
Have we given up on New Year’s resolutions? Marcia confesses that she hasn’t made any in the last few years. Gordon made several meaningful ones, wrote them down and put them in a safe place. He hasn’t been able to find them since.
We are better at setting resolutions for our pets. The Associated Press recently published an article by Sue Manning on celebrity resolutions for their pets, which included pets getting more exercise, staying out of cotton ball jars and getting along better with other pets. We also found the website i-pets.com contained a listing of dog and cat resolutions. Noteworthy were:
“I will not use the bathtub to store live mice.”
“I will not chew on my human’s toothbrush and not tell them.”
“I will not drop soggy tennis balls in the underwear of someone sitting on the toilet.”
We are not convinced these resolutions will be kept either.
A resolution is usually not something we want to do, but is something we very much wish we had already done. How do we succeed?
Research has found that putting goals in writing and clearly stating what we want to achieve is important for success. Developing small attainable steps in working towards the larger goal and rewarding oneself at each completion increases our chances of success. Focusing on a positive outcome and not beating ourselves up for slip ups makes the goal more reachable. Maia Szalavitz encourages us to view willpower as a muscle that is strengthened through increased use.
Our interview with 12 year old Cassie Wright helped us develop a clearer picture of why resolutions fail. We asked Cassie to tell us about her New Year’s resolutions. She replied thoughtfully that it was to get along better with her 6 year old brother, Adam. But, she said, for this to work out he would also have to be better to her. She was planning some discussions with her brother on the subject.
This led us to our last finding on keeping resolutions. Whether losing weight, getting a raise, gaining prosperity or leading a healthier life, we need to enlist the support of others. With everyone on board, we can surely — to paraphrase T. S. Elliot — make our new beginnings.
We wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2012!
— Gordon Mercer is professor emeritus at Western Carolina University and a published author. Marcia Gaines Mercer is a writer, jewelry designer and published author.