FEATURE: All about New Year’s Resolutions…and your resolve!

new-year-resolutions-artAbout a month ago many Torontonians were plunged into darkness.  At a time when we would have been preparing for one of the biggest holidays of the year, a severe ice storm hit Toronto toppling down trees and power lines leaving many without the basic necessities of life:  light and heat.

While Christmas is not for everyone, it is considered to be a day for family, food, warmth and peace.  Looking out of the window while driving along many of its streets, the scene in Toronto around Christmas time resembled more of an apocalyptic aftermath, rather than a time for turkey, roast beef, mashed potatoes, and other traditional fare.  Where was the guy in the red suit?  Where was God when so many felt powerless?  Literally…

Some emerged out of the dark on the countdown to New Year’s day, having missed their traditional Christmas gatherings and dinners.  Like being the protagonist in the climactic part of a dramatic movie – the plot culminating in an unevenly weighted, cataclysmic fight with alien beings that have an arsenal of superior technologically based weaponry ready to destroy the Earth and all that we hold dear.  Protagonists, or in this case, Torontonians, victorious, emerge from the dark and into the light, and towards the promise of something new, as they realize their triumphant destinies.

Making resolutions are akin to this type of sentiment; whether you believe in them or not, make them or not, and are able to keep them or not, resolutions make one acknowledge the passing of the old and give hope for the chance of something new and better…

So what is the history behind making New Year’s resolutions?  Many are aware that the celebration of the New Year predates Christian times when it was celebrated in March under the Babylonian calendar.  Along with celebrating the New Year, many ancient Babylonians made resolutions in the form of promises to gods which predominantly involved the return of borrowed objects and the payment of debts.  Similar to some of the most popular modern day New Year’s resolutions:  spend less, pay off debts, gain financial control, or be a better neighbour or friend.

The New Year was then moved by the Romans to January, a month named after the two-faced god, Janus, who looks backward into the year that passed, and forward into the coming year.  The setting of resolutions during Roman times evolved to be mostly morally based, i.e. be good to others.  Again, this has modern day parallels:  spend quality time with friends and family, help those less fortunate, be a volunteer, help others achieve their dreams.

Although a secular holiday, the act of making New Year’s resolutions can also be found in religious holidays.  For example, during the time starting with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and up to Yom Kippur, one seeks forgiveness for their wrongdoings over the year.  During Lent, observers sacrifice as a form of penance such as giving up a vice (like smoking, drinking, or chocolate!)

Whether the motivation is secular or religious, making resolutions are a part of many peoples’ DNA.

When it comes to resolutions, the allure or promise of something new and better is overwhelming, while taking stock and being grateful for what we already have doesn’t seem to fit the bill.  But making New Year’s resolutions is the easy part.  The trick is in achieving them.

According to a survey conducted by Red Bull, approximately 40% of men make resolutions while that figure increases to 48% for women.  Of those, nearly all have a top priority resolution which for 2014, was to improve overall health.  Unfortunately, only 12% of those surveyed stated that they were absolutely certain they would achieve their goal.

While New Year’s Day was just over three weeks ago, by now, the dreary, drab and (at times, polar vortex) cold month of January is littered with unmet, unachieved and abandoned resolutions.  It’s commonly stated that it takes three weeks for a new habit to take hold (while it only takes three days to break one) and by this point, those who are still clinging onto their resolutions, having not accepted failure, are likely to succeed.

The probability of achieving a resolution is directly linked to how realistic it is; setting and achieving goals is actually a learned skill.  In corporate settings one of the methods used for setting goals is using the SMART system; in other words, resolutions should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewardable and Timely.

Some goals are just too big – and while there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, to increase the probability of achieving the dream, it must be broken down into smaller parts.  When a 7 year old grade two student was asked what he thought his resolution would be for 2014, his response was to run faster.  When asked how he would achieve his goal, he responded, “by practicing, a little bit every day.”  Wise words from a 7 year old.

What’s also important to remember is that you’re not alone.  Achieving a resolution can be a group effort.  Research states that women are more likely to achieve their goals as they broadly communicate their desires.  If guarding a resolution close to your chest is more your style, for today’s busy lifestyle, you can seek help from your smartphone.  Our smartphones are loaded with apps that help with both goal setting and tracking achievement.  These apps can be helpful in reminding us that we have made goals, or resolutions, that we want to keep.  For example, My FitnessPal and Nutrino are apps that will help with losing weight, while MyQuit Coach and Cigarette Tracker are two of the many apps designed to help with quitting smoking.

Some of us, writer included, make lofty resolutions without considering how we will actually achieve them and so come the dark, dreary days of January and the depression that sets in given the short days and seemingly never ending cold, tired of hibernating we are ready for more.  Most of us are on the precipice of abandoning our resolutions but, like a seed that’s planted before the frost, resolutions need time and effort to come to fruition…don’t give up.   As the young 7 year old said, “practice a little bit everyday.”

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