That is until you’re lying comatose on your sofa, having gotten half-way up the road before remembering there was a reason you hadn’t run voluntarily since school PE lessons...and it’s only just turned February. Allegedly after six weeks, 80% of resolution makers have either broken their resolution or even forgotten them all together. So why does the nation go through this monotonous process every year that leaves us despondent and dispirited?
Everyone has areas they want to improve in their life, and the New Year seems the perfect time to start. It signifies a new leaf and a chance to start afresh (not to mention a hangover that will undoubtedly kick-start that detox upon which you’ve been meaning to embark). It brings a sense of motivation and fervour encouraging you to make this year better than the last. It would be fairly damning to label everyone as weak-willed and lazy, not to say pretty unfair, so arguably the failure of many resolutions lies in the gusto in which they are made. If you decide one day out of 364 others that you want to look like Kim Kardashian next year, a day that follows seven of the most gluttonous of the year, you’ve already set yourself up with an all-or-nothing task that isn’t too forgiving of the odd secret biscuit or cigarette. When your levels of anticipation are so heightened, tiny failures will be magnified, discouraging, and ultimately resulting in the scene painted above. Behavioural economists call this ‘boomerang behaviour’, where disappointment leads to 'cause' binging, leaving us back where we started or in an even worse position.
I think the inherent flaw of New Year’s resolutions is that it’s assumed that when the clocks chime midnight, you’ve been possessed with a magical sense of will-power and strength that you apparently didn’t have about one minute ago. You can decide to lose weight, give up smoking and spend more time with family (the top three resolutions) any time of the year - where there’s a will there’s a way. So people’s intentions are questionable when they feel they’re only able or willing to try at the beginning of the year.
It’s ironic that the holiday period, renowned for excess and indulgence, is also the time of year that heralds restraint in your life. Recent research suggests a detox lasting one month after the festive period has no impact on your health - instead moderating consumption of alcohol or throughout the year is more effective. Obvious? It is, so why do we seem to forget this practical sort of advice when January rolls around? It’s probably because it appeases our guilty sides. Intending to do something, with a whole new year ahead, gives us such a sense of satisfaction that is enough to tide us over until we get bogged down with the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Unfortunate as it is, this results in cheap talk and no difference.
Maybe the secret of a successful resolution lies in endeavouring to do something you have wanted to do for a long time, something you have subconsciously prepared for already. There is boundless, albeit often expensive, assistance available for your goal; gym membership deals, charity and volunteering drives, and now smart phone Apps. But is investing in these commitment devices really worth it when you can talk yourself out of them as quickly as you talked yourself in them? As long as you don’t view joining the gym or watching that direct debit leave your account every month as actually exercising, then you’re probably onto a winner. To echo parents and teachers, “You’re only cheating yourself.” Being accustomed to quick fixes and ease in our daily lives makes the hard work behind many resolutions even more daunting.
As cynical as opinions are surrounding New Year’s resolutions, having the intention to achieve something you haven’t before - and to better yourself - is a commendable decision in and of itself. The general consensus seems to be to make manageable goals and to not punish yourself. So maybe you won’t look like Kim in the next few months, or still find yourself with a raging hangover from time to time, but perseverance does pay off.