As I started to write this I wondered just what the origin of making new year resolutions was. Did it start as some sort of Victorian Christmas Day parlour game in the years long before we all tuned into the Queen's Speech?
Well actually my research (yes, I googled it) indicated it is a much older tradition:
-The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.
-The Knights of the Medieval era took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. After a bad tempered visit to the January sales many of us would probably do well to emulate that one.
-And the tradition has many other religious parallels. During Judaism’s New Year festival Rosh Hashanah, and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is encouraged to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness.
I imagine the ancients of whatever era were probably little better than many of us at seeing through our new year resolutions. Research suggests that four out of five people will eventually break their resolution, and a third of resolutions survive less than a month before being dropped or broken.
I was probably surprised it is only one third. And there are good reasons for this. Most of us resolve to make big changes, underestimating the time and willpower it takes to really change an ingrained habit or become entrenched in new, good behaviours.
The research I found about making successful resolutions shows a clear distinction between intentions and goals and suggests that making change stick is about having a careful balance between both. Goals motivate us and provide structure and a longer term measurement of success. An intention is more forgiving, without the “pass or fail” culture of a new year’s resolution but is sustainable if broken down into achievable daily or weekly activities or changes within the structure of longer term goals. Goals tend to be a product of the mind rather than heart and rooted in the future, and intentions tend to be driven more from our instincts, from the heart. GWI if you like.
So my own conclusion from that is that success is about staying on track with incremental changes. Sharing these with trusted family friends or colleagues and seeking support makes it much more likely we will succeed and hopefully introduce constructive accountability.
I will close by sharing my own favourite new year’s resolution. Like the research I have quoted it is not one I claim to have originated, but was written by one of my own great heroes an American rock musician named Duane Allman. He wrote these words on new year’s day 1969, almost exactly 50 years ago and I personally take much inspiration from them:
“This year I will be more thoughtful of my fellow man, exert more effort in each of my endeavours, professionally as well as personally. Take love wherever I find it, and offer it to everyone who will take it. In this coming year I will seek knowledge from those wiser than me and try to teach those who wish to learn from me. I love being alive and I will be the best man I possibly can.”
Duane Allman 1 January 1969
How perfectly he really lived up to it I honestly don’t know because as anyone with a shared liking for slightly obscure music will know, Duane Allman was taken in early death two years later at the age of just 24. But however successful he was or wasn’t, I for one can only feel great admiration for anyone who aspires to those sentiments. And after all he was possibly the greatest electric slide guitar player who ever lived.
What a difference it would make to our world today if we tried to emulate Duane’s emotionally driven motives and made them more linked to our longer term objectives and goals. Even for a few weeks.