It is that time of the year again where so many of us make promises for the year ahead of us. The tradition of making a New Year’s resolution dates all the way back to the ancient Babylonians. They made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. Also, the Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
However long-lived a tradition, the truth seems to be, that making resolutions in the start of the year does not work out so well for most of us. A study by the University of Bristol, professor of psychology R. Wiseman showed that 88% of New Year’s resolution makers fail while 52% of them are confident in that they will succeed while making the resolutions. I am among the 88% and can with confidence say “Been there, done that.” New Year’s resolutions do not work.
“I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. When I want to do or change something, I just start right away, the next day, and live it”
“I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. When I want to do or change something, I just start right away, the next day, and live it”, a friend of mine answered, when asked if he had made any resolutions for the next year. I believe that there is a certain truth in his answer, but it lacks a key element, and I will explain in more detail.
Recently, I started a small company with a friend offering yoga and meditation retreats – Mogy. Most retreats today are getaways, withdrawals from everyday life, to immerse oneself practices, which actually should be practiced continuously day-to-day in order to have effect. We saw that there was a strong paradox in the classical retreat format and the nature of the practices and wanted to change that.
Much like the resolution-making-time around New Year’s, a retreat was seen as that special time to work with yourself, only to then return to your everyday life hoping that some of that glow would follow you home. Like making New Year’s resolutions, this does not work. The key to meaningful change is continuous practice – incorporating the new habit into your everyday life. Like Aristotle famously proclaimed “We are what we repeatedly do.”
So what I am getting at is that I believe that if we could take that special feeling we get around the beginning of the new year – this tradition of reflection and promise making dating all the way back to ancient Babylonians – and make that into a habit that we practice day-to-day rather than once a year around the 1st of January, then maybe we would end up with a resolution success rate higher than 12%.
There is a lot of literature around the topic of habit formation. For those of you who are interested, I would recommend Jeremy Dean’s comprehensive “Making Habits. Breaking Habits” as a good read – this will give you more insight into the topic that I have a chance for here. But I would briefly like to outline an element that really shines through most of the literature as one core element for habit formation. This is also something we incorporated into Mogy’s retreats. It is creating a daily structured journal that incorporates the following principles.
Visualization of the goals set. This can be done through drawing, imagining, or writing the road map that leads toward a specific goal, and your current location on the map.
Prioritizing different tasks and activities. The goal of this is becoming proactive rather than reactive in the course of your day. Doing this in the evenings makes you ready for the coming day.
Flexibility can be achieved by not dating your journals. Falling off track is one of the main hurdles in habit formation and not dating your progress allows you to come back to the habit even after a relapse with a good consciousness. Simple but works.
Reflection on wins, losses, and learnings every day helps you stay on track and accumulate your experiences to make progress in your practice.
So with this in mind – I will make my New Year’s resolution. I will try to carry this special time that calls for resolutions into my everyday life. In order to do this, I will keep a journal with the before mentioned principles in mind. Continuous awareness of the things we want to do and change is the key element, which was missing from my friend’s answer, and believe is found in this journal. I guess I will report back in 12 months and let you know how I did.
Until then, happy New Year!