Do New Year’s Resolutions Work? Only If We See Every Day as a New Beginning

Friday, January 4, 2019

Have you set your New Year’s resolution yet? Phyllis Anastasio, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Saint Joseph’s University, answered some of our burning questions about why we do this to ourselves every year and if it’s worth it.

Why do people choose the start of the New Year for resolutions?

We all would like to improve something about ourselves - whether it be the way that we feel, think, look, treat others, make our living. The thought of a clean, blank slate towards that improvement is so very appealing. And what better day to welcome that clean slate than the beginning of a brand new year? We don’t see the significance of starting anew on, say, March 3 or August 9. January 1 holds very special psychological significance for that new beginning.

When did the trend start?

New Year’s resolutions seem to have been with us since the ancient Babylonians - so for a very long time. It appears to be a part of being human that makes us want to improve ourselves. What better time to make those resolutions than the start of a new year? Interestingly, we seem to make these on an annual basis, rather than a daily or monthly basis. I would think that is due to seeing the complete circle of life - for the Babylonians, resolutions began in spring with planting of crops; for us, it begins with the start of a calendar year.

What does psychology tell us about the tradition?

The experts tell us that the path to success is to break a goal into smaller and concrete steps that we feel are just a bit out of our comfort zone but not too much. The “I’ll become physically fit” becomes “I will take a walk three times this week” (or twice, or once, or five times, depending on one’s present level of exercise). “I’ll find a new job this year” becomes “I will send out my resume to two new organizations every month."

The pitfall that awaits us all is when we don’t attain that small step, or when we backslide. It is very easy to give up on exercise if the goal was to walk ten miles a week and we only walked two. Or if we find ourselves swearing when we vowed not to. The best way to tackle any resolution and attain our goals is to look at every day like it is January 1. Every day is a new beginning, even if it is March 3 or August 9, or any other day of the year.

Does it work?

It does work, if we see every day as a new beginning.

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