Around 4,000 years ago, in 2,500 B.C., the first documented New Year’s resolution was made by the Babylonians. Back then, the new year began in March, which also marked the start of a new farming season. In hopes to earn goodwill from the gods, they resolved to repay their debts, and to return borrowed farming equipment. The pressure was high to maintain this resolution, as failure to do so would result in an unfavourable stance with the gods. In 153 B.C., the Romans reportedly resolved to increase their amount of livestock in the new year. In the medieval period, knights were said to have resolved to reaffirm their devotion to chivalry.
These days, we might not be as concerned with resolving the same things as the Babylonians or the knights, and we might not be doing it to impress the gods of old, but the start of a new year still grants a positive opportunity to start fresh, and set new goals for a new year.
According to a survey done last year by Ipsos, the most popular resolution that Canadians strive for is to improve personal fitness and nutrition. In fact, they found that one-third of Canadians chose this as their resolution. The most popular resolutions that followed, in descending order, were focusing on setting financial goals, spending more time travelling, quitting bad habits, and learning a new skill.
Just a couple days into the new year, I was already being questioned by friends and family about what it was I wanted to resolve this year, and I felt kind of guilty for not having a solid answer yet. The longer I wait to pick something, the more I feel like I’ve already started the new year off on the wrong foot. According to a poll done by Ipsos in 2015, only 31 per cent of Canadians even make New Year’s resolutions, and of that 31 per cent, 73 per cent end up eventually breaking them. Despite that, the start of January is still the most popular time of year to begin to work towards a goal.
So, why is it that so many people are unable to maintain their goals? And how can we be more successful at sticking to them? A 2005 study from the Journal of Consumer Research measured how people’s perceptions of self-control can affect the setting and maintaining of goals as they relate to New Year’s resolutions. They found that the type of people who are willing to set resolutions believe that self-control is adaptable and limitless. On the other hand, those who believe that self-control is limited tend to set fewer goals, and tend to give up on them if they do not believe in their ability to succeed.
Alright, so if I believe that my own self-control is dependant on how much I believe in myself, then I can achieve my goals? If believing in yourself is a prerequisite to succeeding in any other kind of goals, I might have some work to do before I set any real goals this year, but I guess that’s the first step towards anything.
Every year, there are a number organizations that promote New Year’s resolution challenges through various contests and activities. The Pacific Blue Cross has been advertising a health challenge, where you are asked to select one of three resolutions (eating healthier, exercising more, or quitting smoking) to be entered in a contest to win $2,018. Knowing I was writing an article on resolutions, I decided to enter it. I chose that I wanted to exercise more, and that specifically, I wanted to start running again. Upon reaching the final step in the process, I was asked to share my resolution on Facebook and Twitter, so that people could vote for me, because the person with the most votes wins the $2,018.
After reading that, I felt kind of defeated before I even started the resolution, because there’s no way that my 77 Facebook friends, and my non-existent Twitter account, would get me anywhere near winning this thing. It seems almost counteractive to base a contest about resolutions purely centred around validation from others, but hey, maybe that’s the kind of encouragement that works for some people. It’s just not gonna work for me.
Sharing your resolutions with others can garner you some encouragement and support, and can also inspire others to reach their goals, but if you’re only going to spend your time sharing it and talking about it, it just won’t work. But obviously, no contest is going to do all of the work for you; it’s about how you choose to use it. Of course, achieving your resolution is rewarding in and of itself, but it can be nice to have something else to motivate you along the way. There are a lot of promotions aimed at helping people with their resolutions, so if that’s something that you think might work for you, it doesn’t hurt to try out a bunch until one of them seems to be useful.
Just over a year ago, the Public Health Agency of Canada, B.C. Healthy Living Alliance, the Heart & Stroke Foundation, and a few other organizations, partnered with an app called Carrot Rewards, which is aimed at motivating Canadians to learn more about health and wellness, mental health, managing money, and saving the environment. The app tracks your steps, encourages you to ask friends to join you for walks, and rewards you with small, but attainable rewards, such as SCENE points, Save-On-Foods More Rewards points, and Petro-Points. This program, to me, seems like a much better way to encourage people to be healthier, and does so in a way that is more educational.
In a recent study from the Journal of Consumer Research, they concluded that acquiring small rewards more gradually over time throughout the road to success is more motivating than receiving one big reward at the end, because the rewards can continue to be earned indefinitely, rather than just once.
University is kind of a mixture of both of those things. We are gradually rewarded with grades, advance to higher courses, and then earn one big achievement at the end of it all. And as university students, maybe our resolutions are a bit different than the mainstream ones. Maybe we are more concerned with resolving to achieve higher grades this year, to skip class left often, or maybe we just want to get through the semester without having any breakdowns. Personally, I think I’d like to drink more water during the school day, because I tend to forget to, and I want to stop living off of Clif Bars for Pete’s sake, and actually bother to make myself some proper lunches.
Aside from all of the contests and promotions being advertised everywhere around this time of year, there are still some helpful tips that can be applied to most any goal, whether is be something popular like health and wellness, or whether it be something less common, like learning how to embroider flowers onto a jacket. (I don’t know, I’m sure somebody has that goal, right?)
According to “The Hidden Costs of Making Resolutions,” the three most important things you should consider when making any kind of resolution is how much time it will take out of your day-to-day life, how much motivation you have to achieve it, and how much willpower it requires. Only once you have considered these three things can you seriously begin to make a game plan.
And the combination of these things actually makes a lot of sense; if you are motivated enough to do something, and are willing to spend time doing it, then that time will have to be taken out of something else. So, as much as I want to start eating better lunches, I’m gonna have to spend time making them, which might take time out my daily addiction to watching Jeopardy. I guess I could do both at the same time, so really I would just have to take time away from sitting on the couch, but I honestly think that might take a lot more willpower than I’m willing to admit.
And maybe my whole thing about the lunches is a relatively small goal, but the size of the goal isn’t necessarily the most important factor in determining the likelihood that you will achieve it.
Along with believing in yourself and considering the amount of time, motivation, and willpower it takes, studies have shown that it’s important to make your goals specific, achievable in the near future, and reasonably challenging. The factors that cause people to fail at their goals are usually due to setting too many, making them too difficult and unrealistic to achieve, not keeping track of their progress, and by setting their end goal too far away from where they’re starting.
As well, it has been shown that people’s reasons for setting goals is either because they truly want to achieve it, or because they feel external pressure from others to do so. Results show that those who pursue goals for their own satisfaction, rather than the satisfaction of others, are more likely to achieve their goals, and more likely to have fun doing it. On the other hand, setting goals based on validation from others can cause internal conflict, which makes goals more difficult to attain.
Basically, it’s best to set goals that will make you happy. You might be feeling a lot of pressure this month to start working towards something, but here’s a really nice quote to make it all feel a little less daunting:
“So, what if, instead of thinking about solving your whole life, you just think about adding additional good things. One at a time. Just let your pile of good things grow.” -Rainbow Rowell, Attachments
And really, January isn’t the make it or break it month; you can start fresh whenever you want to, and whenever it feels right for you. You can start anew every month, every day, or even after every fraction of a second. So, don’t feel like you have to wait around for next year if you haven’t figured out a resolution yet, you’ve got the whole year ahead of you to make anything you want happen.