By most definitions, a New Year’s resolution is a tradition in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal, or to otherwise improve his or her life.
In and of itself, that sounds like a worthy and productive custom. Making resolutions designed for the purpose of improving our undesirable traits and behaviors, at least on its surface, is a difficult concept to criticize.
Certainly none of us is perfect, and each of us has room for improvement. Some of those rooms might be the size of a small bathroom, while others might take up entire basements. In some cases, new construction might be necessary. But that’s not the primary point here.
Taking an honest account of our imperfections, as painful as it might be, is the obvious first step to self-correction. Once imperfections are identified, those observations prompt goals, which evolve into specific resolutions. Quite often, those goals can only be achieved through positive behavioral changes that require some sustained level of disciplined commitment on the part of the resolution-maker.
So each year, millions of Americans take hard looks in the mirror, conduct honest assessments of themselves, and then systematically make changes to improve any imperfections gleaned from that process. What a cool custom. Thank goodness we do that.
New Year’s resolutions are seemingly a perfect vehicle to make us all better – as individuals, and as a collective society. Just think of where we would be without them. All of our faults would cease to be addressed, and all our imperfections would be left to fester and grow year after year.
If not for New Year’s resolutions, who knows the ugly, chaotic and unhealthy mess we might become. Right?
But then there’s this
According to a 2017 YouGov.com survey, the top three resolutions for 2018 were eating healthier, getting more exercise, and saving more money.
According to a 2018 survey, the top resolutions for 2019 were the same.
Unfortunately, that can only mean one thing. Despite our heartfelt resolutions, we are not eating healthier, getting more exercise or saving more money. If we were, we would all be moving on to other resolutions like volunteering more, not texting while we drive, spending more time with our kids and not internalizing Broncos’ losses.
What gives? What gives is that less than 10 percent of resolution-makers actually ever achieve their New Year’s resolutions. That is a shockingly low number, and one that health clubs deeply lament.
Are you less likely to sign a one or two-year commitment to a health club worth hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, knowing there is better than a 90 percent chance you will stop going within the first six months?
Apparently not, because as we all know, health clubs realize the same economic boom on or around Jan. 1, every year, without fail. If not for New Year’s resolutions, treadmills across the nation would fall silent, even during the month of January.
Here’s the rub regarding resolutions: If the changes we wish to make were easily made, they would not be appearing even once on our list of resolutions – much less every year. We likely recognized the need for change well before New Year’s, so why didn’t steps toward improvement begin well before Jan. 1?
The answer: Because we didn’t really want to. If we did, we wouldn’t need a new year to change our behavior. Hence, a New Year’s resolution is little more than a handy way to say we don’t want to make any hard changes today. We would rather wait for Jan. 1.
The calendar turning over does very little, if anything, to change dynamics that have long been in place. The coming of a new year, for example doesn’t improve the taste of spinach. It doesn’t make a three-mile jog any less exhausting. It doesn’t make saving money any easier, either. It might be a new year, but all of the previous year’s dynamics are still very much in place.
Many historical scholars insist that the most effective way to predict what will happen tomorrow is by understanding what happened yesterday. It seems the same could be said for failed New Year’s resolutions. History, they say, is cyclical, as is our custom of making and breaking promises to ourselves at the beginning of each new year.
Why we are so persistent in making resolutions is a different question, altogether. But why we break nine of every 10 we make seems pretty clear.
What’s a “new year,” anyway?
Adding to the complex psychological factors surrounding resolutions is the artificial nature of New Year’s itself.
If Jan. 1 was the first, or last day, of anything significant, New Year’s resolutions might carry more weight. If the new year ushered in some astronomical event, or if the new year prompted any physical changes in our environment, then Jan. 1 might offer more of a motivational punch.
But there is no astronomical reason to celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1, and few convincing reasons at all to explain why Jan. 1 has any special significance.
Every day, in fact, a new year begins. Once March 25 has passed, for example, it will not appear on the calendar again for 365 days. March 26 will be the first day of that new year, and could be recognized as New Year’s Day just as easily as Jan. 1.
According to www.history.com, Julius Caesar decided that the traditional Roman calendar was in dire need of reform. As part of that reformation, Jan. 1 became the first day of the new year.
Celebration of New Year’s Day in January fell out of practice during the Middle Ages, however, and even those who strictly adhered to the Julian calendar did not observe the New Year exactly on January 1.
The reason for the latter was that Caesar’s calendar had failed to calculate the correct value for the solar year as 365.242199 days, not 365.25 days. Thus, an 11-minute-a-year error added seven days by the year 1000, and 10 days by the mid-15th century.
The Church became aware of this problem, and in the 1570s Pope Gregory XIII commissioned Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius to come up with a new calendar. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar was implemented, omitting 10 days for that year and establishing the new rule that only one of every four centennial years should be a leap year.
Since then, right or wrong, people around the world have acknowledged Jan. 1 as the precise arrival of the New Year.
So, let’s get this straight. We make resolutions that are kept less than 10 percent of the time, for a day that was artificially determined as a result of flaws to the Roman calendar, or by Pope Gregory’s commissioned astronomer?
No wonder that’s not enough to motivate us to clean the house more often, or to get up early and take the dog for a walk even on days when it’s snowing sideways.
Why not make resolutions on days that have some meaning in our lives? Why not make them on our respective birthdays, or perhaps July 4th? Those days, it seems, carry more motivational value than anything concocted by Julius Ceasar or Pope Gregory XIII.
Despite the fact that Jan. 1 could be seen as artificial and meaningless, and that resolutions reveal our flaws but do little to change them, Americans will most certainly make them all over again this year.
They will complete the difficult task of self-analysis to identify their imperfections. They will make promises to themselves to rectify those imperfections. They will set an artificial future date, based on nothing, really, to begin taking action.
They will take action until it becomes too inconvenient, time consuming, or mentally or physically taxing to continue. Then, unceremoniously, the significance of their resolutions will erode or fade away, probably by mid-March.
In the end, the only thing more predictable than our New Year’s resolutions is our propensity to break them.
We know this to be true, because, as history tells us, it’s what we’ve always done.
We also know this to be true, because, even in 2020, spinach is still going to taste like spinach.
(Our only resolution here at The Flume is that we continue to bring our readers in Park County timely and interesting news. And we ask our readers to help us keep this resolution by submitting ideas, information or even articles to us, so we can fulfil our resolution. We resolutely wish you and yours a happy and prosperous 2020.)