Resolutions: Ring in the new

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Whether it´s a firework display in Brussels’ Grand Place or just sitting at home watching the television, champagne glasses clink and kisses are exchanged as countless people toast the New Year.

As a wave of celebration travels across Belgium and the rest of the world, many of us will vow to kick bad habits and improve ourselves in an effort to make this coming year better than the last. New Year’s Eve has always been a time for looking back to the past, and more importantly, forward to the coming year.

In fact, revelry and resolutions have been essential to ringing in the New Year since 2000 BC when Babylonians held semi-annual festivals around the spring and autumn equinoxes. The custom of setting ‘New Year resolutions’ began with the Romans who tended to make their resolutions with a moral flavour: mostly to be good to others.

So, all in all, the idea of promising to do this or do that at the end of each year is nothing new.

The only thing that has changed is that, rather than making promises to gods, nowadays we make promises to ourselves, such as losing weight, getting better organized, spending less, enjoying life to the fullest and staying fit (the top five New Year´s resolutions for 2013).

However, since we cannot possibly rain thunder and lightning on ourselves as punishment for not keeping these and other promises, it need not surprise us that sooner or later we fail in staying true to our words. More often than not, New Year’s resolutions are nothing more and nothing less than a ‘to do’ list for the first week of January.

By the time these seven days of the New Year are gone, so is our motivation to stop smoking, get out of debt, learn something new and lose weight (the resolutions most often forgotten last year).

The statistics speak for themselves: according to a survey, only 64% of resolutions made on January 1, 2013 made it past one month while a mere 46% got beyond six months.

More often than not, people tend to wake up on the morning of January 1 and no longer feel the need to eat junk food, drink a tad too much or smoke.

Maybe the answer then is not to take it all too seriously and, rather than resolving to stay fit and spend less, we should just start the New Year with a good old laugh. When it comes to resolutions, some of this writer’s favourite funnies include these: only get divorced and remarried once this year; spend less than €1,000 for coffee at Starbucks this year; and claim all my pets as dependents on my taxes.

Or maybe we just listen to what Mark Twain thinks about New Year’s Day: “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

Psychologists explain the whole thing by saying that people often scribble down various New Year’s resolutions without taking the time to ponder on them and figure out how badly they want to change a given behaviour and/or achieve a given goal.

Almost nobody bothers to also piece together a strategy that would allow them to stick to their New Year’s resolutions. A University of Washington study in 1997 found 47% of the 100 million adult Americans who made resolutions gave up on their goals after two months. This figure has risen to 80% in the past decade, according to recent research completed at the University of Minnesota.

The practice has certainly come a long way since it revolved around paying off debts and returning borrowed goods – it’s now all about accomplishing behavioural changes.

Personally, I can fully relate with the UK celebrity cook Mary Berry who said her 2012 resolution was “to have computer lessons. My skills are rubbish, I have never typed”.

Some resolutions like Lady Gaga (“I resolve never be afraid to be kicked in the teeth”) are just odd while others are a tad tedious, such as rocker Jon Bon Jovi who welcomed 2013 by saying, “I like to kiss a year goodbye and welcome another one because every day is just something new and exciting.”

Maybe comic Ricky Gervais’ 2013 resolution is something readers of Together might recognize: “I want to be even more brilliant but it’s proving impossible.”

While the official statistics on resolutions may appear grim, take heart – your intentions to make 2014 the best year yet aren’t doomed. Experts agree that writing down resolutions, sharing goals with others and tracking your progress really can help you achieve success.