The end of the year is a time of reflection for most people. People look back on the last 365 days of their lives and attempt to qualify those days by listing their accomplishments and reflecting on whether or not they met their New Year’s resolutions. Others frantically shuffle through old notes and journals because they forget their resolutions by the time February rolls around.
This year has certainly been one for the books. While we, as a society, have made leaps and bounds in technological achievement, studies, and other groundbreaking moments; we would be remiss to acknowledge the successes of the previous twelve months without also acknowledging the last 2 months (give or take 75 years) of heartbreak, horrors, and hopeless news stories we’ve witnessed while world leaders sit on their hands and argue over semantics.
Thankfully, 2024 is just around the corner. A new year, a new chapter, and new resolutions -- hopefully we remember them. Surely 2024 will be our year. Right?
But if we’re being honest with ourselves, when was the last time we thought about our New Year’s resolutions? Or better yet, why do we still make these empty promises to ourselves? Has the last year not taught us better about what really matters? In the current climate, with innocent lives being lost in the name of "defense", does making a list of resolutions we're not going to uphold make any sense?
The Dropout Rate
If you notoriously don’t keep your New Year’s resolutions, don’t worry, you’re not the only one.
Researchers found that 80% of people fail their New Year’s resolutions by February. After that, a meager 8% of people stick to their resolutions for the entire year. If the success numbers for New Year’s resolutions are truly so terrible, why do we keep making them?
Time Magazine posed this question to psychologists who study self-control. The experts refer to the unending stream of forgotten New Year’s resolutions as a ‘response modulation,’ or a ‘white-knuckling’ approach to life.
Instead of creating actionable steps to achieve obtainable goals, we set lofty, pie-in-the-sky resolutions with vague descriptions about how we want to ‘be better,’ or, ‘lose weight.’ And then, twelve months later, we were so shocked that we never remembered the goals that were never achievable in the first place.
New Year’s resolutions are not goals. They further fuel the never-ending fire of hustle and hurry.
Back to the Beginning
New Year’s resolutions had to be successful at some point in history, or they wouldn’t have lasted as long as they had.
This tradition has lasted for over 4,000. Ancient Babylonians were the first civilization to record their resolutions. The only difference was the Babylonians believed if they stuck to their 'resolutions,' the gods would look favorably on them in the new year.
In the 1800s, it was common to see satirical New Year’s resolutions. A Boston newspaper published a statement with the first recorded use of the phrase ‘New Year’s resolution:
I believe there are multitudes of people, accustomed to received injunctions of new year resolutions, who sin all the month of December, with a serious determination of beginning the new year with new resolutions and new behavior, and with the full belief that they shall thus expiate and wipe away their former faults.
And thus, the modern interpretation of not fulfilling one’s resolutions was born.
Goals, not Resolutions
As the year ends and talks of resolutions pile up, we suggest an alternative option.
It can be tempting to add another thing to your massive to-do list. But what if you abandoned that line of thinking and came up with achievable goals focused on rest, fulfillment, and happiness?
It’s important to note that New Year’s resolutions aren’t the enemy. But they are a conduit to the larger problem of society stepping in and attempting to keep us busy rather than healthy.
As you plan for the year ahead, it’s natural to want to make changes and grow from what you learned in the past twelve months. Don’t succumb to societal pressures and weigh yourself down before the year begins.
Instead, focus on being present in the next year. Take time to slow down and reflect in the next twelve months. We’re constantly surrounded by more than enough pressure and tasks that keep us busy and distracted in the world. So, if you do make goals, make them both achievable and measurable, make them count.
The next year is bringing in elections in the US, some by-elections in a Canadian riding near you. Look back at how your interests and concerns were taking into account by your representatives, how they responded to the millions of protestors calling for action across the country, and set the goal to inform yourself on facts, events, and your rights to disempower those who silently stood and watched genocide take place.
Take a look back at the family members, friends, the colleagues who kept quiet or openly "agreed to disagree" on the occupation, apartheid and genocide taking place in front of our eyes. In the name of fullfillment and self-care in the new year, consider what those people bring to you and your values, whether they should remain in your life.