How to be in the Eight Percent
According to the History Channel, the tradition of New Year’s resolutions goes back 4,000 years to ancient Babylonians, the first in recorded history to celebrate the New Year, hosting their festivities in late March. Roman emperor Julius Caesar later changed the New Year to Jan. 1, coinciding with the solar calendar as opposed to the lunar. For the Romans, the month of January represented introspection over the previous year and plans for the future. In 1740, John Wesley, the founder of Christian Methodism, introduced the Covenant Renewal Service – or the night watch service that’s still popular today – where New Year’s Eve is spent reading scriptures and singing hymns.
Fast forward to today and the promises people make are now to themselves rather than tied to a religious practice. According to Forbes, while more than 40 percent of Americans make resolutions, only 8 percent keep them. Why is this?
Psychology Today outlines habit formation as the process that makes behaviors automatic. An obvious example of automatic behavior is someone brushing their teeth after waking in the morning. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg explores this process and labels it as the habit loop. The habit loop is both a psychological pattern and three part process: the cue, the routine and the reward. The cue (time, location, day, a person, emotion) triggers the habit. The brain processes the cue and decides to either resist or indulge. The routine is the action after the cue — whether it be picking up a cigarette after dinner or starting each day with a brisk walk. The reward is the positive enforcement, usually a rush of dopamine in the brain, which accompanies the action.
Habits are easier to establish – or harder to break – depending on the environment we make for ourselves. For example, if you carry water with you wherever you go, you’re more likely to drink that instead of buying a coffee or soda. If you keep junk food on the counter, it’s easier to reach for when hungry instead of making a balanced meal. This theory of architecting your environment can be applied to all habits, whether good or bad.
If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution that you’re serious about keeping, take an assessment of your daily practices and pick out hindrances to your progress. Is it something that can be modified or removed from the picture altogether? What cues or triggers prelude undesirable actions and behaviors? For example, if you want to be mindful of what you eat, pay attention to how you feel right before you head to the kitchen. Do you eat because you’re sad or angry? What about bored? How can you soothe and observe your emotions without overindulgence in external substances, such as food, cigarettes or drinks? These are common examples.
When it comes down to it, New Year’s resolutions are more than taking a day to make a commitment that you may or may not keep. Overall, resolutions stem from the desire to live a better life. If we want to achieve this, we have to make an honest, daily assessment of ourselves and our actions. This is not to put ourselves down or beat ourselves up, but it is a practice of accountability steeped in genuine self-love and compassion.
We don’t live our lives all at once. We do, however, live them one day at a time. Therefore, it makes sense that we take our resolutions one day at a time, not just as an event at the start of the year. Not every day will be easy, and some days you won’t make the best choices. However, it’s your response to these choices that determines whether you will persevere tomorrow. Giving yourself space to grow is imperative. Self-deprecation and anger are instant momentum killers, while compassion and understanding for yourself and your struggles gives you the gentle nudge to keep trying at the pace that’s right for you. If you get to Dec. 31, 2019, and you still haven’t met your goal, you can bask in the glow of having never given up. Most importantly, after everything you’ve learned from the process, you’re much better now than you were 365 days ago, and you have a brand new year to keep going. Your resolutions are important to you, so honor yourself by sticking to them.