As the clock struck twelve and the new day dawned, hundreds, even thousands, of New Year’s resolutions were formed. This year I’m going to exercise more. This year I’m going to eat healthier. In some form or another, a New Year’s resolution is a commitment, a promise to change one part of your lifestyle that you recognise is not as good as it could be. Hence; the exercise, the eating healthier, the ‘no more drinking for me, I promise.’ And yet, Miller and Marlatt (1998) found that 75% of people who make a resolution fail on their first attempt. I’m not surprised. The last time I made a New Year’s Resolution, I vowed to make more effort with my friendships. On New Year’s Day, I bailed on a party. The fact we make resolutions, and break them (as soon as the next day, even) is common knowledge. Resolutions are made to be broken. At least, people say, you had the intention to change. And that is precisely what New Year’s Resolutions are all about.
Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University and author of ‘Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change’ believed that New Year’s resolutions was a form of ‘cultural procrastination’. Procrastination is the gap between intention and action. It is an emotional coping mechanism; understanding you have something to do, yet not bringing yourself to do it. By recognising something you need to do, yet not taking the time, effort and cost to perform the task, procrastination is a “mood repair.” One feels instantly gratified by recognising the problem, and forming the resolve to fix it later. Many view procrastination as simply an innocuous habit. Yet early studies of procrastination, by tracking university students throughout the semester, found that although students who procrastinated had lower stress initially, their academic performance, mental and general health was far worse than students who did not procrastinate. In this way, New Year’s, culturally seen as a form of rebirth – new dreams and new goals – is the perfect setting for procrastination; to fix an aspect of your life, but not quite now. That’s why New Year’s Resolutions so rarely stick to the end of the year.
So are New Year’s Resolutions doomed from the start? Pychyl advises to construct specific implementations in relation to your New Year’s resolution. Many resolutions that we make are vague and broad sweeping; this year I’m going to eat healthier. Instead, create specific implementations to achieve that goal, such as keeping a food diary, or keeping a checklist of food to avoid; creating specific goals that seem tangible, rather than vague, far-fetched dreams. New Year’s resolutions are plausible, and I’m not writing them off in anyway. But the reality of New Year’s resolutions, the foundation in which we procrastinate, may be useful as you vow for better health, better jobs; a better you. In the end, New Year’s is about hope. Let’s hope we can achieve our goals.