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How to set successful New Year’s Resolutions

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Posted: Monday, January 2, 2017 11:34 pm

This year, it’s really going to be different.

My New Year’s resolution is to ... Oh well, what’s the point? It’s going to fail. It always does.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t taken very seriously these days. Perhaps that’s because the overwhelming majority of them never reach their points of maturity. So how did all this nonsensical tradition begin in the first place?

Some say it started way back with the Babylonians 2,000 years before Christ. This was a time when people obligated themselves to their gods at the dawning of each new year by promising to return a borrowed ax or pay an outstanding debt.

The Romans carried on a similar ritual at the annual turn of the calendar by affirming to a two-faced god, Janus, that they would become better citizens.

During the Middle Ages, noblemen brought in the new year by chivalrous dedications to whatever causes dominated the moment.

Religious leaders from Christianity to Judaism joined the observance by having their members atone for their sins and committing to behaviors that reflected more righteous pursuits.

After World War II, New Year’s resolutions became quite popular, as prompted by the media. According to one source, as many as 50 percent of Americans participated.

Over time, however, the exercise has become secular and involves promises to one’s self rather than to a deity.

Despite centuries of this custom, success rates for New Year’s resolutions are token at best. Estimates reveal that only eight to 22 percent of those who make these promises achieve success. Also, methods used to study these statistics are usually based on subjective testimonials. Long-term changes in behavior remain generally unknown.

Why do people fail with these resolutions? There can be a number of reasons. One is addiction to a substance or a behavior. Case in point: One might commit to stop smoking, but the unpleasantness of withdrawal makes the goal just too difficult to achieve.

Another is the pleasure principle. If someone vows to give up something that brings pleasure and satisfaction — no matter how harmful that behavior may be perceived — the odds of success are minimal.

Still another can be an obsession toward becoming a perfected human being. People who can’t accept their human fallibility are doomed to be its victim. Their quest can be an endless cycle of trying to meet a faultless goal, but always failing, and then trying again.

It reminds me of the game of golf. No one can score 18 holes-in-one. The objective then becomes how close can one come to achieving a level of impossibility. It’s simply an irresolvable paradox

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t try to improve themselves to achieve a reachable standard of personal satisfaction. But to do so takes more than a whimsical promise to one’s self. It takes planning.

This is done by setting an achievable goal, making a step-by-step proposal as to how to reach that goal, along with a daily plan that’s exercised each and every day. Benchmarks need to be established for evaluating progress. Feedback from others who may be affected by the changes also can be utilized.

A lot of work? You bet! But without it, chances of success remain on the low side.

But there’s another option, and this is to simply accept ourselves as we are.

Once that is accomplished, any habits or personal behaviors, which are offensive toward others or traits that prevent us from reaching our potentials, will eventually take their toll. If we cherish the companionship of people and respect ourselves, we will be easily motivated to change without implementation of any repetitive 4,000-year-old ritual.

As an alternative, one might consider what I call a “reverse resolution.” For example, I vow that I will not be giving up dark chocolate this year. It may add a couple of pounds, but it certainly doesn’t hurt anyone else, and the delightful confection just brings too much personal pleasure for me to announce a New Year’s “sayonara.”

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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