When I was a child, I remember a lot of fuss and preparation was made by my mother leading up to New Year’s Eve. It was a tradition from the old country (Greece), whereby she bought her children new clothes, all house chores had to be completed, dinner and special cake prepared -all before 9pm on New Year’s Eve! The aim to all this fuss (as I found out many years later) was simple, it reminded the individual and the collective that a new year is approaching therefore another opportunity to let go of old habits, let go of all wrongs and start afresh!
My parents literally came to this country with absolutely nothing and yet they never stopped believing that ‘tomorrow will be a better day’! There is something powerful about the human will and the realization that life’s most essential impulse is to grow, to evolve, to become. We do not simply have the instinct to just survive but also the longing to become something new and more whole. New Year’s Resolutions has been a practice dating as far back in Babylonian times over 4,000 years ago. The practice in those days was to remember to please the gods however today the focus is on the individual and self-improvement. Today we tend to focus on resolutions that are generic, such as finding a work-life balance, more exercise, healthy eating and so on.
Richard Wiseman a British Psychologist has shown in his research that 88%of all new year resolutions end in failure. The reason for this is that we place too much expectation around that time of the year and that our resolutions are not personally salient and meaningful which leads to a decrease in motivation and willpower.
This being the case, perhaps this may be an opportunity to approach new year’s resolutions differently. Instead of aiming for the ‘should’ goals, we may ask ourselves ‘why’ we prefer these goals. Being aware of why we set goals may lead us closer to our truth which brings us closer to a meaningful resolve. Goals that align with our values are meaningful therefore we are more likely to stick to them.
Neuroscientists have also recently discovered that new year’s resolutions are doomed to fail not because our willpower is lacking but that our prefrontal cortex is overloaded! The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that is responsible for abstract thinking and analysing behaviour. It controls a lot of who we are. In other words, our brains are tiered and simply cannot cope with more demands. This is so evident now as we navigate the never-ending challenges of the pandemic.
If our overloaded brain cannot support personal change then understanding ‘why’ may help us. Research informs us that by simplifying things we create space in our brain to cope. This mindset allows us to be flexible and open to change. When our mind is calm, we can think clearly.
Forced into home isolation this New Year’s Eve due to Covid (my twenty-year-old daughter tested positive two days after Christmas) I observed within myself a feeling of hope, a mystical energy that made me feel that a better future is possible. I found comfort tidying up and preparing to welcome the new year as my mother does and generations before her did. There is something positive drawing on tradition in difficult circumstances. I found it took me away from being self-focused and by doing I was able to create space to calm the mind and accept what is. My daily practice of general reflection, contemplation, and self-examination is also a tool I have cultivated for many years which I found very helpful.
There is always improvement to be made. We can start with easing off on the ‘shoulds’ in our life. Remember that very small, slow changes, will eventually bring about cumulative impact. With a little focused intention , long-term persistence, kindness to yourself and enjoyment, every day can bring about a meaningful resolve.