New year, new rules

Nayab Najam looks into the concept of New Year’s resolutions, why they fail and how we can see them through.


Nayab Najam December 30, 2013
Nayab Najam looks into the concept of New Year’s resolutions, why they fail and how we can see them through.

Renowned British writer G K Chesterton once said that “The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year but rather, we should have a new soul.”

Many a New Year’s parties have been marred by the notion that Christmas and New Year’s Eve are a time for personal reflection and resolution, with millions of people across the world promising to make changes in their lives most of them cannot see through — at least not within the next year. They continue to indulge themselves, resolving to lose weight, quit smoking, save money, get married or find a better job etc, every January 1 but don’t really understand the concept and so, fail to fulfil their wows repeatedly. This time, Ms T shall help you fulfil your New Year’s resolutions by shedding light on them and how you can achieve your goal effectively.

The idea of New Year’s resolutions dates back 4,000 years, when the Babylonians began praying for good health and virtue on the March 23, which marked the ‘official’ start of spring in the Babylonian civilisation. It was a celebration of good harvests and crop yields; good luck and fortune were believed to be in the air, not just in Mesopotamia but also the Roman civilisation which adopted the practice over the years and dubbed the date as ‘Resolutions Day.’ It wasn’t until 46 BC when the Roman calendar was reformed by the great Julius Caesar that January became the first day of the new year. This was done in honour of the Roman god Janus who was believed to be able to look back and forward in time, giving rise to the idea that one should reflect over the past year and make their resolutions accordingly.

But what exactly are New Year’s resolutions? Are they goals we hope to accomplish, items on our wish lists or simply a silly concept we feel obligated to adhere to because everyone around us is doing so and we do not want to be the odd ones out? By and large, a New Year’s resolution is a promise to start a good habit or to kick a bad one on the first day of the year. “For me, resolutions are a way of maintaining direction in my life — a special focus,” confesses 18- year-old Sana Kaiser. “Making a resolution on any day, be it January 1 or August 14, is sort of a reminder in case I lose my way.”

As human beings, we are biologically pre-disposed to becoming demotivated and often lose our way to find ourselves unhappy and stuck in a rut. Setting a goal can help us maintain this focus. “In today’s fast-paced and chaotic life, we can lose sight of what is important to us,” says 25-year-old Ayesha Waqar. “Although life can never be linear, a New Year’s resolution can add some coherence to it. What’s better than bidding farewell to the past by setting goals for the future and striving to achieve them? A resolution only adds more value to the otherwise celebratory nature of New Year’s Eve.”

Unfortunately, humans also suffer from a grave tendency to forget what they say, once the words have been uttered. Research has proved that over half of the vows made on January 1 never materialise, with only eight per cent of people actually accomplishing what they had aimed for and surprisingly, there is an actual medical explanation for it! Imagine having to remember the number 184930586749302 after just one glance. Impossible, right? In much the same way, the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain which controls will power) is bombarded with information, as we make one resolution after the other come New Year’s Eve. This influx of information, and that too in such a short span of time, can prove too much for the prefrontal cortex to process and the brain cells are unable to record the information properly, causing us to forget what we had resolved completely.

We must also take into consideration the nature of the resolution made in order to determine its tangibility. Oftentimes, people make larger than life, sweeping statements and vague resolutions which are almost impossible to fulfill, such as ‘quit smoking’. Setting such broad and ambitious resolutions can be fun but the difficulty of seeing them through can give way to frustration and insecurity. A resolution to ‘lose some weight’, for instance, will be harder to abide by than a strict diet plan of say, no carbohydrates or reducing one’s sugar intakes by half a teaspoon upon every tea break. Similarly, it is advisable to cut down on the number of cigarettes smoked gradually instead of giving it up on January 1 altogether. This can perpetrate withdrawal symptoms which are likely to hamper your goal.

As suggested earlier, many people view New Year’s Eve as an opportunity to draft extensive bucket lists, plan out personal makeovers and brag about how they hope to achieve all their goals by the end of the new year. Unfortunately, the average person has so many additional priorities that their approach is doomed for failure. A good way to avoid running into this dilemma is by biting off only that which one can chew and keeping resolutions simple, small and attainable. Perhaps focusing on one major resolution would be easier on our minds than dipping our toes in ten different ones.  “What matters is not how much change or achieved but the fact that you recognised the need for a change and are working towards it, albeit gradually,” says Sana. Also, adding specific details to one’s goal will take it a long way, such as ‘jogging for twenty minutes daily’ as opposed to ‘exercising’ or ‘getting fit’.

Setting reminders on your cell phones, bedside tables, daily planners or bedroom walls etc, can be of great help, especially for those with hectic schedules and poor memories. It is important to hold yourself accountable for the achievement of your own goal and if you still tend to forget, ask a friend or a family member to remind you of your plan. Perhaps this will motivate you to prove their determination to the other person, if not yourselves. Experts suggest charting your progress or simply making them known to the public, say over Facebook or Twitter, to keep motivated. Making resolutions obvious can do wonders to help you stick to your goal. For those seeking to lose weight in particular, comments from others appreciating your progress will boost your self-esteem and encourage you to lose more.

The most important thing, however, is to keep your faith and remain focused! Many people abandon their New Year’s resolutions once they hit the first bump on the road and attribute their failure to a weak willpower or lack thereof. Remember, we have only as much willpower as we think so your journey towards achieving your goals will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is not to say that one should get warped in trying to meet their goals; too much pressure makes the cooker explode! Taking it easy is just as important. After all, the main objective should be your happiness and nothing more. Here’s to hoping the New Year proves a joyful one for everyone and gets us all one step closer to whatever we want to achieve. Amen!

*Names have been changed due to privacy 

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, December 29th, 2013.

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