Why is a resolution made Jan. 1 supposed to have any more success than one made May 8, Aug. 14 or Dec. 28?
The New Year’s Resolution tradition may be one of the biggest gimmicks in human history. While born of noble intent, they routinely suffer a fatal flaw of high expectations announced on a capriciously chosen day. The statistic most commonly cited: A scant 8 percent of New Year’s resolutions will be kept through the upcoming year. A second common stat: 80 percent of resolutions fail by mid February.
Those are better odds than a lottery ticket, but probably no better than betting on a horse race — unless one of your resolutions is to stop gambling.
The world is awash with wisdom on how to resolve successfully. Pick attainable, specific goals, as in “eat a fast food burger no more than once a week” rather than “give up red meat.” “Attend spin class Tuesdays” rather than “exercise more.” “Fresh fruit with breakfast” rather than “seven servings of fruit and vegetables per day.”
This isn’t rocket science. No matter how much we talk about “resolutions,” we’re actually talking about habits — making or breaking them. It may be easier to do that in small steps. If you want to “read more books,” don’t pick a number of books per month. Start by setting aside a little time each day to read a book. Eventually, it becomes a habit, and you find yourself reading for longer stretches because you’re figuring out which authors and topics interest you.
“Resolution” makes it a chore, an Everest to be conquered. “Habit” makes it an afterthought, something you keep doing because it satisfies part of you (or stop doing because it’s dumb).
This is why making Jan. 1 the lone day to change your life proves so ineffective: 1) If it has an annual start date, odds are you’re brain will assume there’s an annual “stop date” — Dec. 31, perhaps; 2) If you fail, well, you can wait until next Jan. 1, right? Heck, it’s easy to convince yourself you should wait rather than try again.
We are much better at permanently stopping or starting something with a real, rather than arbitrary, reason, and they don’t happen on a fixed date each year. You may know someone who stopped smoking the day before bypass surgery, or the day after getting a stent installed. There is no annual “New Stent Day.”
Making life changes because it’s the start of a new year is almost the definition of pointless. Every day is the start of a new year, we just use Jan. 1 as the official demarcation. And we do that entirely on the whim of a Roman named Julius Caesar who revamped the calendar more than 2,000 years ago, and decided each year should start in the month named after the two-faced god Janus, guardian of doors and gates.
Had Caesar felt war was a better symbol of new beginnings, March 1 (from god of war Mars) would be Happy New Year.
If you make New Year’s Resolutions, more power to you. But ultimately you need to make them because they are, for you, the right thing to do, not because a giant ball is falling in Manhattan.