Ready to face the new year? Resolution Shmesolution 2015.12.30

My son-in-law Taylor came through with a guest column, giving me more time to play with his offspring.


According to Wikipedia (obligatory reminder to consider the information source before believing what follows to be 100 percent accurate) New Year’s resolutions are at least as old as the Babylonians, who four millennia ago made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. Ancient Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus. And medieval knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of each Christmas season to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry. 

The 40 percent of American adults who annually make a New Year’s resolution are simply carrying on an ancient tradition of viewing the New Year as a time to reflect, to make amends, and to resolve to be better over the course of the coming year. 

Each year, Nielsen tracks the top-10 New Year’s resolutions. In 2015, they were:

• Stay fit and healthy (37%)

• Lose weight (32%)

• Enjoy life to the fullest (28%)

• Spend less, save more (25%)

• Spend more time with family and friends (19%)

• Will not make any resolutions (16%)

• Get organized (18%)

• Learn something new/new hobby (14%)

• Travel more (14%)

• Read more (12%)

‚ÄčThese aren’t particularly surprising. Many people think the New Year, a time that naturally lends itself to some soul-searching, is a good time to get serious about their health and fitness, or connect more with family and friends, or to commit to learning and/or trying something new. 

My favorite resolution is the one to “not make any resolutions.” Count me among that group. I’ve never done the New Year’s resolution thing for a few reasons. First, if in self-reflection I realize there is something I need to be doing differently (getting healthier, saving money, traveling), my typical response is to figure out a way to start behaving differently. There’s no need to wait for a specific day. See the need for a change, and make the change. It may not always work, but why waste time waiting for a special day to get started? And what if I don’t feel an urgent need to make a change right around the New Year? Do I just make one for the sake of making one? 

Another reason to avoid resolutions altogether is that, according to a 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol, 88 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. If you’re looking for a fresh start in a new year, making a resolution may be the worst possible thing for your psyche. Not only are you not likely to see the change you’re hoping to see, you’re also likely to experience failure before you’ve even escaped January. 

Perhaps my biggest problem with New Year’s resolutions is the uptick in patrons I see at my gym. I’m far from a gym rat, but I spend between 30 and 45 minutes a day on the treadmill at the gym in our neighborhood. I do this mainly because we don’t have cable at home and it gives me an excuse to watch some ESPN every night. I’m already dreading next week when I’ve got to fight for treadmill space. 

Of course, it’d be better for new members and for the gym, too, if folks stuck it out. The gym could expand a little, offer more classes, and eventually we’d figure out how to coexist with more members. But, I know that by early February, about 80 percent of the resolution crowd will have dropped off. At least then I can watch college basketball and run in peace. And by that time I’ll need to start figuring out what I’m giving up this year for Lent.