A New Year’s resolution is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve their life.
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History of the New Year’s Resolution
- Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.
- The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
- In the medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.
- At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions.
- This tradition has many other religious parallels. During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness.
- People can act similarly during the Christian liturgical season of Lent, although the motive behind this holiday is more of sacrifice than of responsibility.
- In fact, the Methodist practice of New Year’s resolutions came, in part, from the Lenten sacrifices.
- The concept, regardless of creed, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually.
At the end of the Great Depression, about a quarter of American adults formed New Year’s resolutions. At the start of the 21st century, about 40% did. In fact, according to the American Medical Association, approximately 40% to 50% of Americans participated in the New Year’s resolution tradition from the 1995 Epcot and 1985 Gallop Polls. A study found 46% of participants who made common New Year’s resolutions (e.g. weight loss, exercise programs, quitting smoking) were likely to succeed, over ten times as among those deciding to make life changes at other times of the year.
In a 2014 report, 35% of participants who failed their New Year’s Resolutions admitted they had unrealistic goals, 33% of participants didn’t keep track of their progress, and 23% forgot about them; about one in 10 respondents claimed they made too many resolutions.
A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, wherein resolutions are made in terms of small and measurable goals (e.g., “lost a pound a week” rather than “lose weight”).
Some popular resolutions are:
- Promise to donate to charities more often
- Try to become more assertive
- Strive to be more environmentally responsible.
- Improve physical well-being: eat healthy food, lose weight, exercise more, eat better, drink less alcohol, quit smoking, stop biting nails, get rid of old bad habits
- Improve mental well-being: think positive, laugh more often, enjoy life
- Improve finances: get out of debt, save money, make small investments
- Improve career: perform better at current job, get a better job, establish own business
- Improve education: improve grades, get a better education, learn something new (such as a foreign language or music), study often, read more books, improve talents
- Improve self: become more organized, reduce stress, be less grumpy, manage time, be more independent, perhaps watch less television, play fewer sitting-down video games
- Take a trip
- Volunteer to help others, practice life skills, use civic virtue, give to charity, volunteer to work part-time in a charity organization
- Get along better with people, improve social skills, enhance social intelligence
- Make new friends
- Spend quality time with family members
- Settle down, get engaged/get married, have kids
- Pray more, be more spiritual
- Be more involved in sports or different activities
- Spend less time on social media (such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr etc.)
- Spend more time listening to different or conflicting points of view
Instead of making resolutions, setting measurable goals is more likely to lead to success in seeing your hopes and dreams come to fruition. Want to increase the chances of seeing your dreams become reality? Here are some goal-setting tips that will get you started on your journey towards reaching your goals.
Focus on Intention Rather Than Outcome
Most New Year’s resolutions focus on an outcome, e.g., losing 10 pounds or being more productive at work. But what if you turned your focus inward instead, focusing on your intention rather than any results? Your goals for the year might then change; instead of losing weight, maybe your goal is to treat food as nutrition rather than enjoyment. You might be surprised at how effective such a mindset can be!
Highlight the Things You Do Well, Not What You Need to Change
Who says you need to change, anyway? You’re just perfect the way you are: every flaw, every weakness, every time you chose to sit on the couch and watch TV instead of going to the gym. Maybe these aren’t things to be fixed but rather to be celebrated as unique aspects of your personality and life. Perhaps it’s okay to leave the betterment plan for another time and instead focus your attention on the things you like about yourself.
When it comes to goal setting, S.M.A.R.T. is a familiar acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive. Too often, people set goals that are vague and unrealistic. Not only does this lead to frustration, but it also decreases the likelihood of actually achieving the goal. The S.M.A.R.T. method can be applied to a variety of goals, whether professional or personal, giving you the tools you need to succeed in your goal setting endeavors.
Write it Down
The daily minutiae of life is enough to rattle even the most skilled multi-tasker. With family dinners, kids’ sporting events, and household chores, life is truly a juggling act. Still, we manage to fall into the routine of getting those things done without a need to write them down. When it comes to goals, however, we are not very likely to simply fall into a routine. Achieving goals involves deviating from the daily monotony, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and challenging yourself. Writing down your goals allows you to free up some of that mental clutter so that you can visualize those things that you want to achieve. Also, tracking your progress by checking things off will give you a sense of accomplishment, motivating you to keep going.
When you are working towards improving your life, it is common to compare yourself to other people. Your perception is that they are superior to you, or more privileged in some way. The social media phenomenon doesn’t help; your ‘news feed’ overflows with announcements of your friends’ new love interests, weight loss, and new jobs, quickly turning you into a green-eyed monster. How does this serve you, exactly? It doesn’t. When you compare yourself to others, you rob yourself of time you could be spending on your own self-improvement. It is also important to keep in mind that everyone’s journey is different; although we have similar destinations, our paths are often quite different. Follow your own path.
Anticipate Setbacks & Opportunities (bolster your resilience)
Research shows that using “If/then” thinking encourages us to be more flexible and creative when it comes to problem solving; it’s what Peter Gollwitzer has called “implementation intention.” Basically, your mindset is “If X happens, then I’ll do Y.” This has you thinking proactively and forces you to pay attention to situational cues; it can be used in almost every situation too. Let’s say you are trying to smooth out what has been a bumpy relationship with a friend; you begin by thinking, “If she’s open to talking, then I’ll talk to her about how we might resolve our differences.” Needless to say, if she appears not to be open to talking, you will reframe and wait for a better moment. Sticking to a single plan is a terrible idea so keep using “If/then” thinking. Your ability to quit and pivot is absolutely key to success.
Rich Dad Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki says that “successful people don’t fear failure but understand that it is necessary to learn and grow from.” Setting goals involves learning what you need to do in order to achieve personal growth. Embracing failure by seeing it as a necessary part of achieving your goals will only make you stronger and more resilient as you continue on your road to towards achieving your goals.
Enjoy the Process
Big success is made up of small victories. If your weight loss goal is 20 lbs, chances are that you will not lose it all at once. Still, you can celebrate your pants fitting a little looser every week. Having goals is important; however, we don’t stop living while we pursue them. Life happens while you are in the midst of seeing your dreams realized. Don’t allow your focus on the outcome to keep you from enjoying the process.
Celebrate Your Successes
Appreciation can sometimes be played down in life and we tend to forget to appreciate what we’ve done and what we have. Appreciating our small wins and the small steps we take can be the difference between failing and succeeding. Lack of appreciation and gratefulness can lead us down the slippery slope of not being able to see the importance of our small successes. Celebrating the small stuff is us acknowledging that we are well on our way to achievement – in fact we are achieving all the time and it’s a myth that we are only successful once we’ve reached that elusive goal.
People move through their lives never celebrating success because they often don’t recognize when they have been successful. Our personal definition of success greatly influences our perception of self and the meanings we place on our experiences. Developing your authentic and personalized definition of success is key when talking about healthy ways to celebrate.
Psychologist and author of Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion and Pride, David DeSteno, PhD, studies the relationships between emotions and success. In his work, DeSteno shares that emotions, such as pride, can lead people to greater future success. Regarding prosocial emotions such as gratitude, compassion and pride, he states: “These feelings – gratitude, compassion and pride – are easier to generate than the willpower and self-denial that underpin traditional approaches to self-control and grit. And while willpower is quickly depleted, prosocial emotions actually become stronger the more we use them.”
Celebrating vs. Rewarding
When we think of celebrating, we may think about rewarding ourselves after accomplishing a goal or job well done. Although rewarding yourself may feel the same as celebrating, a reward suggests that there is no continuation of effort in that particular task after earning the prize. Celebrating is about an appreciation of the process, your effort, those who have supported you along the way and where you would like to go next.
Extrinsic motivation is when we feel motivated to complete a task because we want to earn an external reward, such as a gift, ribbon, trophy or money. The process of completing the task becomes more about the final outcome than the process and effort required to complete the task. When we rely too much on extrinsic motivation and reward, it can be difficult to find the energy to engage in the task itself when that external reward is removed.
Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is motivation that comes from within rather than focusing only on the outcome or reward. This type of motivation has more to do with the process and effort of the task than the outcome. When intrinsically motivated, people will engage in a task for the joy of doing so, even if there is no trophy to be won at the end. Celebrating success in a healthy way allows us to enhance the positive emotion around our effort, further increasing our intrinsic motivation.
How to Celebrate in a Healthy Way
There are a few simple ways that you can celebrate your success and promote motivation to continue on your journey to personal fulfillment.
What is it that you are celebrating? Sure, winning the game or meeting your sales quota would be reasons to celebrate, but if we take away the outcome and look at the journey it took to get there, what would you want to celebrate most? Take time to reflect on things like the elements of your value system that guided your decision making and the personal strengths that helped you achieve your goal.
When celebrating success, it can be easy to forget others who may have helped us, in ways big or small, to reach the finish line. Including others in your celebration is a wonderful way to build and strengthen connection with coworkers, loved ones or others who helped you along the way. Give them specific feedback about the ways that they helped you achieve your goal and express gratitude for their help. People enjoy feeling helpful, appreciated and connected. When you celebrate success with others you are nurturing the kind of meaningful relationships that allow those same people to want to help you in the future.
In our fast-paced society we seem to always be focused on the future. When we have reached one goal we quickly move on to the next, often with no celebration at all. In fact, sometimes it can feel uncomfortable for people to celebrate their own success for fear that they would be drawing too much attention to themselves or setting themselves up for embarrassment. Celebrating your success, especially in the ways we are talking about here, includes slowing down to appreciate and live the experience of your success with those who are important to you.
Celebrate in fun ways that nurture your mind, body, and spirit. Decide to celebrate in ways that speak to you and what you enjoy most. Examples of ways to celebrate while nurturing at the same time include:
- Dinner party with loved ones
- Walk or jog in the park
- Watch sunrise or sunset
- Massage or spa treatment
- Game night with friends
- Start a new journal
- Go on an adventure
- Try a new hobby
Creating Successful Habits
Successful habits equal success. We all know creating and changing habits can be hard as our minds find it difficult to adapt to new routines but acknowledging and celebrating the small wins are how you help yourself establish the habits you need and to keep you going. Our brains need reinforcement so allowing yourself to be rewarded will develop an ‘addiction to progress’ that will cause your brain to want to carry on to the next steps.
So, what is the secret to a successful habit? It’s all about understanding the importance of the present moment. We tend to take the present moment for granted – it seems insignificant and we believe the little things we do in the moment aren’t changing us. You must invest in the small things over a long period of time and understand that you only have the moment you are in and although these moments seem insignificant when determining whether you succeed or fail at something, it is the combination of moments over time that achieve the big things.
Celebrating your wins not only feels great physically, it also reinforces the positive attitude and behavior you want to have show up when you face a new challenge or opportunity.