Resolutions:
The most popular
and the most broken

 

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The New Year is nearly upon us. I need hardly point out that, for a lot of us, that means making and promptly breaking one or more resolutions.

For a bland definition of the ubiquitous New Year’s Resolution, look no further than Merriam-Webster:

A promise to do something differently in the new year.

For something a bit more entertaining as well as sardonic, the oft-NSFW (consider that warning should you be tempted to click to it) Urban Dictionary offers these:

The things you promise yourself you will do over the year, but quit after the first 2 weeks.

An assessment of, and often delusional attempt to correct, one’s shortcomings … Given the arbitrary nature of the date and the sudden change of lifestyle demanded by most resolutions, it should not be surprising that most resolutions are abandoned by the start of the next year.

The [malarkey] that people say they will [accomplish] when they are hammered 10 minutes before the New Year comes. Most of this is forgotten by the 3rd of January.

The tradition of using the start of a new year for making resolutions dates back at least to ancient Babylonian times. According to History.com,

The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. … During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king … If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to be.

Popular resolutions today

A number of organizations conduct annual surveys of popular New Year’s Resolutions. GOBankingRates offered respondents a choice of seven. The choice “none of the above” had a decent showing at 30 percent, but “Enjoy life to the fullest” took nearly half the vote with 45.7 percent. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. “Enjoy life to the fullest” is just vague enough to make success easy to claim. Or not.

“Enjoy life to the fullest” also found its way into an annual survey conducted by Nielsen, the company known since humankind walked upright for collecting and reporting TV ratings. Here are the first three of Nielsen’s top ten:

1. Stay fit and healthy (37 percent)

2. Lose weight (32 percent)

3. Enjoy life to the fullest (28 percent)

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to lump 1 and 2 together. TIME does just that in its survey of top broken resolutions, where “Lose weight and get fit” takes first place.

Making a resolution you might actually keep

A cynic might aver that the point of New Year’s Resolutions is not to keep them but only to make them and then be done with them. Fair enough.

But those genuinely interested in keeping their resolutions might check out the work of British psychologist Richard Wiseman. Wiseman is known for researching the offbeat, including a search for the world’s funniest joke (which Miami Herald humor columnist and author Dave Barry did his best to skew toward any joke ending with the punch line … well, click here), a scientific investigation into the nature of luck, and contents most likely to ensure the return of a lost wallet. In 2007, Wiseman researched New Year’s Resolutions, tracking “… over 3000 people attempting to achieve a range of resolutions, including losing weight, visiting the gym, quitting smoking, and drinking less.” He reported that:

At the start of the study, 52% of participants were confident of success. One year later, only 12% actually achieved their goal. The study uncovered why so many people fail, and what can be done to help ensure success.

As to the part about “what can be done to help ensure success,” Wiseman listed a number of recommendations. These include making only one resolution, planning the resolution well before January 1, avoiding previously failed resolutions, and being specific. Wiseman’s brief post on the subject is well worth a read.

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For those who find Wiseman’s advice too demanding, here’s an infallible method for keeping a New Year’s Resolution: Wait for December 31, look back over the year, find something you accomplished, and then make accomplishing it your retroactive resolution. You won’t convince anyone, including yourself, but at least you’ll be able to claim success.

As for my 2017 resolution, I have chosen one that is eminently attainable: It is that the Broncos will win every game.

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