If only for the sake of New Year’s resolutions, New Year’s couldn’t come at a worse time.
In fact, Jan. 1 could be among the worst days to embark on a drastic change in your life, as evidenced by the fact that 20 percent of resolutions are broken within a week and at least 80 percent are broken within a year, according to Harvard psychologist Stephen Kraus on www.happypushing.com.
“Instead of starting resolutions on Jan. 1—after a hectic month when most people have been knocked off of their usual routines because of the holidays — start on Feb. 1,” clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula said in www.inc.com, “And shoot for a date every month to check progress.”
On Jan. 1, the holidays, vacations, robust dining and late hours already play havoc with our routine, and adding more change can lead to disappointment.
As it happens, cleansing our palate and starting over with new goals once a year isn’t a new concept.
“Ancient people practiced the fine art of New Year’s resolutions,” LiveScience.com writer Stephanie Pappas said. “More than 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year … in March, when the spring harvest came in.”
Eventually, the Roman calendar presided, no longer syncing with the sun, and Julius Caesar declared Jan. 1 the first day of the year to honor Janus, the two-faced god looking backwards and forwards.
Having consulted with the Rome’s best mathematicians and astronomers, the choice likely had to do with earlier sunrises and later sunsets, which common knowledge erroneously tells us begins on the Winter Solstice. (Due to Earth’s tilt and elliptical orbit, the earliest sunsets are actually in early December; sunrises start later until around Jan. 11.)
Still, our choice to re-invent ourselves is so intrinsic to human nature, the capacity to be reborn, cleansed or re-incarnated in purer form is written into the fabric of almost every major culture and religion.
The take-away? Resolve, and then pick a date. Any date.
So once we’ve decided to try to re-invent our better selves, how do we achieve our goals? One key is to “keep it real.”
“Whatever your resolution, don’t over-promise,” the Chapel Hill / Carrboro YMCA says. “It’s easy on Jan. 1, with a whole year ahead of you (and the day off from work) for us to decide that we’ll lose 25 pounds or run 10 miles a week this year. But once all of our responsibilities return, things get harder.
“Start off with small goals – losing five pounds this year, or running once a week, then work up from there.”
One hurdle is a set of goals which invoke the “terrible toos” – too much, too soon, too rigorous. “Too” many resolution-aries fall prey to their own overambitious regimens and wind up disillusioned, burned out, or even injured.
“An hour-long, high-intensity aerobics class on your first day will only discourage you ... and may send you back to square one,” cautioned weightwatchers.com writerMelissa Sperl.
For those looking to lose weight, most fitness experts suggest a reasonable goal of losing not more than two pounds a week and up to eight pounds a month. Similarly, runners should not increase mileage more than 10 percent from week to week.
But an unexpected culprit unexpectedly lies in “too easy” goals – ones that imply little or no effort or change.
Rather than setting a specific goal, like losing 25 pounds, decide simply to lose weight this year. Instead of committing to a certain number of miles of running each and every week, resolve to go for a run twice a week, the YMCA website urged.
Conversely, however, Simplistic or nebulous goals like “get in shape” may be no more help than unrealistic ones.
“Despite being vague and directionless, resolutions like ‘enjoy life’ and ‘worry less’ maintain top-of-the-chart status (as resolutions),” Eric Ravenscroft wrote for Lifehacker.com. “Fortunately, they’re not impractical. They just need a bit of direction.”
Ravenscroft suggested well-defined goals that are quantifiable – providing a time frame and measurable results – and then share those goals publicly, with friends or even a supportive peer group.
“Even if you don’t have someone on your case about (goals) 24/7, putting your resolutions on a public medium can increase pressure on yourself to make sure you get them done,” he said.
That public sharing speaks to the issue of accountability, which is even more powerful when it’s mutual among those seeking self-improvement. But the benefit is not just peer pressure – it’s a support system.
“A workout partner can be immeasurably helpful,” Weightwatcher’s Sperl said, “because you have a responsibility to your friend not to talk yourself out of exercising. ... Choose a buddy who’s in about the same shape as you.”
Even if we seem to revisit the same goals and resolutions year after year, one thing is changing: We’re a year wiser each time around.
“Things change,” the YMCA reminds us. “Our lives, our time, our jobs – lots of things change.
“So, don’t be afraid to stop and reevaluate your resolutions.”