Because only 9% of people succeed in fulfilling their New Year’s Resolution, it seems like a foregone conclusion that one shouldn’t make them in the first place. According to statistics, that is a 91% rate of failure with 59% giving up by the end of January. Psychologically, why would someone put so much pressure on themselves when it is almost certain they will become one of the miserable majorities?
When the Babylonians first introduced New Year’s Resolutions 4000 years ago, it wasn’t even in January. It coincided with the planting of crops in March. And there were only two resolutions; To repay economic debt and remain faithful to the reigning sovereign. It was believed that, to end the year free of your debt to others, you would have luck from the gods in the forthcoming year. This isn’t so much a magic contract with destiny, it just made financial sense. If you ended the year in credit, you would be in better socio-economic standing for the next year. Throughout history, the New Year’s Resolution has evolved to include our sense of spiritual wellbeing (mainly because very few of us work in farming or have as much fundamental control over our economy as the Babylonians did). We are more focused on achieving something almost imperceptible to others, rather than something measurable and impactful on our wider society. What does YOU losing weight lend to the greater good of society, and how does that impact the collective sense of well-being in your society? When it comes to setting New Year’s Resolutions in the modern era, we are profoundly indolent because the outcomes are self-involved and can only be measured by our internal sense of self-worth which changes from day-to-day. And this makes them far more personal. When New Year’s Eve rolls around, we entertain the pomp and circumstance with alcohol, a late night, frivolity. It’s an environment inviting celebration of what we have achieved. And there is a growing consensus that this is seemingly…not a lot. Given the socio-political landscape, we now congratulate ourselves on “making it another year.” And, for some this is understandable. Some experience such overwhelming life-circumstances that this is all one can do. But what is worrying is the growing amount of public ridicule of those who do reach the end of the countdown and seek to better themselves and share this with others; They decide to go to the gym for the first time in a decade. Or become vegan as soon as the fireworks stop. Or immediately put down the shot; they’re sober now! Even if we set resolutions ourselves, many feel compelled to keep them to ourselves to avoid the incredulity. And this is a problem.
Imagine directing this negative perspective towards a person who is actually trying to improve. They have planned meticulously for these changes. They might have set a clear intention that brings them a positive outlook. And they are proud to share their plans for their future with someone they care about. And that someone directly turns around and mocks them: Oh yeah “New Year, New Me”?Har-har-har! When we do this, we’re not just mocking their decision to make a New Year’s Resolution, we are actively dismissing another’s ability to follow through, we are devaluing their planning and their willingness to grow in self-esteem. And, usually, because of the judgement we place in your own ability to do what they are doing. They’re not judging us for not making a New Year’s Resolution, how they choose to improve on themselves and when has nothing to do with us. But there is a free pass to mock the New Year’s Resolution. In turn, you also deliver a barrage of negative self-talk in the process: I’m not going to do anything differently because anything I do doesn’t make a difference, I am going to maintain an average because nothing I do improves my outcomes, I am not an active participant in my goals or outcomes, I am powerless to my circumstances. This level of despondency is not something anyone is deserving of even if it is said in our own voice, in our own head.
But whether it is New Year, or tomorrow, is this an attack on self-esteem. I would hazard that it is made worse by this paradox; When we are, as a world, celebrating our strength to make it round the sun for another year, we’re also insisting that this wasn’t actually that great an achievement anyway. I mean…it’s not like we tried to achieve more than this. And if we are going to try…we are all collectively taking the piss out of one another.
This level of self-depreciation at a time of heightened emotion worsens anxiety and depression, increases stress, worsens performance in work and life. And honestly, when we scoff at someone making New Year’s Resolutions, whether we mean it or we do not, we are being an ass. It doesn’t matter that you don’t believe in yourself enough to set a goal as arbitrary as the ball-drop, it does matter when you ridicule another for having that self-belief and being willing to share their goals with you at a time of celebration and wishing others well.