As the first month of the new year comes to a close, many of us watch as optimistic lists pushing for self-improvement made by our peers become neglected or even cut altogether. It is as if a yearly tradition exists of making resolutions, and a follow up tradition exists of breaking them. And, all too often, the guilt that can be experienced afterward deters many from ever reaching their goals. So, is it possible that an act centered on improving oneself, ultimately be undermining?
While it’s true that some people respond better to different incentives, in reality, this good-natured attempt at practicing self-discipline typically fails. According to a 2017 study by Statistic Brain, only 9.2 percent of people felt they followed through with their resolutions, while 42.4 percent of people reportedly never complete resolutions.
Personally, I have not met an individual who has made a list of New Year’s resolutions and kept it. But I have met many people who have implemented small changes in their life throughout the year and found success. In the eyes of many, making New Year’s resolutions is a ritual, deeply ingrained in Western culture, but it is a ritual that is unsacred.
For most people, the laundry list of changes to be put into effect January 1 aren’t changes they truly want to make. While everyone wants to be the best person they can be, cutting out negative behavior is dreaded, which is why it is put off. In an ideal situation, people wouldn’t wait for a grace period of indulgence, they would simply begin cutting out unwanted behaviors. And unfortunately, sometimes the period before restrictions are made leads to overindulgence, making it even harder to start making positive changes when the time finally comes.
We form habits because of how our brains work; our neural pathways determine the strength of our habits, and being able to overcome them is a tremendous task. Every day, humans are tested by their cognitive distortions — the ability our minds have to convince us of things that aren’t true. These distortions stop individuals from seizing opportunities in front of them and cause them to feel insecure or give up on their objectives. It is our tendencies to make over-generalizations or predict our futures that lead to failed resolutions.
Often times, the return to a previous lifestyle is caused by setting unrealistic goals. When writing these resolutions, people rely quite heavily on will-power, rather than choice. Instead, opting for much more realistic, incremental changes that are not dependent on the new year could prove to be much more successful.
If writing a list of resolutions truly inspires others, even if it may be less than 10 percent of the people posting pictures of them on social media, it is by no means a bad thing. But if you find yourself slipping on targets you made, especially those you centered around a specific date, you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t focus on the product, focus on the process and why you’re setting said expectations. Personal growth isn’t dependent on time. The calendar may reset for the new year, but you don’t.