A New Year, An Old Promise

Today, over lunch with a good friend, the subject of New Year’s resolutions came up.


[Photo by B Tal]

Today, over lunch with a good friend, the subject of New Year’s resolutions came up. My friend mentioned having made a few of the sorts of resolutions many people would recognise. Exercise, relationships, learning new skills – solid, worthwhile goals. But while we started off talking rather hopefully about what he and I wanted to accomplish in the New Year, the conversation began to turn melancholy. How many times have we made similar resolutions before? Why is it so difficult to get started? Do we really have time for these things?

Later in the day it occurred to me that this defeatist attitude is fundamentally built into New Year’s resolutions. We make these promises to ourselves because we feel good about it on January the 1st. It feels good to be resolute on a day when the burden of living has been eased by the colourful holiday season. But later, back in real-life, back at work, back in the supermarket doing the weekly shop, the world has returned to its grey routine. It’s not long before promises that once appeared unbreakable have turned to dust.

So how can this barrier be broken? The answer is simple: we need support from others. We need to tell other people what our New Year’s resolutions are, and then have them keep us honest. It’s not enough just to talk about your New Year’s resolutions as though they are meant to be broken. It’s not enough to discuss them in an abstract fashion, knowing in the back of your mind nothing will change. Similarly, it’s not enough to idly listen to other people’s resolutions and then turn a blind eye when they flout them.

In this spirit of resolution, then, I’m holding my friend to account. He has the weekend to at least make a start on the things he discussed. On Monday I will be reporting back here on whether or not he managed it.

I hope you’ll all do the same for your friends, and they will do the same for you.

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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