One of the most important New Year traditions in our culture is making resolutions. Every year, millions of us promise ourselves that we will lose weight, save more money, and do any number of things meant to improve life and help us become better people.
But why is there so much emphasis on making New Year Resolutions? Everyone jokes that the resolutions have usually failed by March. Why do we constantly make resolutions if we know that we are unlikely to follow through?
A Long History of Self-Examination
One of the reasons that making resolutions is so important in our culture is that there is a long history of self-examination in our civilization. While the idea of looking back and looking forward at the turnover of a new year is as old as the ancient Babylonians, the Puritan heritage that still influences our society today has a lot to do with the interest in resolutions and self-examination.
Indeed, many look back to Jonathan Edwards and his carefully compiled 70 resolutions. He wrote them all down over the course of two years, and decide that he would review these resolutions each week in order to become a better person. This intense self-examination is something that we still like to tout in our culture. We are supposed to look at our lives and figure out what’s wrong — as well as how to fix it.
Once you acknowledge what is wrong with you and your life, resolutions are supposed to help you make improvements. Whether you realize that you are neck-deep in debt and need to get out, or whether you decide that you could stand to lose a few pounds, or even if you decide that you need to be nicer to others, self-examination is a large part of our culture. As a result, it leads us to attempt bold new changes to our lives as we try to fix what we feel needs improvement.
Unfortunately, it often works better to start small with resolutions than to try something big. Trying to immediately overhaul your life and ingrained habits rarely ends well, since it is hard to sustain that kind of change.
Make Resolutions Throughout the Year
While it is tempting to get caught up in the enthusiasm of a new year, and making resolutions in January, you might actually do better to make resolutions throughout the year. One of the reasons that we give up on resolutions is the all or nothing aspect. If you mess up, you think you’re a failure. Instead, learn a lesson from Jonathan Edwards: Make resolutions that are important to you and review them each week. You don’t need to make 70 resolutions, but you can make a few achievable resolutions, and then review them. And, as you improve at the process, you can set goals throughout the year.
If you fail at one resolution, don’t consider it done with. Start again tomorrow. And consider setting goals throughout the year. Look for ways to accomplish something a little at a time, and once you are successful, don’t wait until a new year to start on something new. Make goal setting something that is part of your regular life.