New Year’s resolutions: how to get them right

New Year’s resolutions: how to get them right

Clean slate

Text: Yeong Sassall

With all this talk of 2017 being ‘my year’ (ahem, no pressure), Ros Brennan investigates how to keep those lofty ambitions firmly planted in reality and side-step flash in the pan happiness for the real deal.

January is named after 'Janus', the Roman god of new beginnings and transitions. In Roman mythology, Janus was depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions - both reflecting on the year that was and preparing for another dance around the sun. 

There is certainly an urgency in the air in January. Buoyed by an invigorating sense of newness and the crisp blank pages of their diaries, people plow ahead at full steam ticking off their to do lists. Even those who might publicly turn up their nose at resolutions are silently saluting the New Year with the more virtuous sides of their personality.

According to Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, the most common resolutions are losing weight, doing more exercise and saving money, and while we might attack these goalposts with full gusto for a while, the statistics show fewer than 10% of people to stick them. He attributes this to 'false hope' syndrome, where a person has unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease and consequences of changing their behaviour.  

But perhaps there is a larger piece of the puzzle missing in the conversation about New Year's resolutions. We seem to put so much emphasis on 'fixing yourself' or redeeming your bad attributes, like a magic silver bullet which will suddenly transform you into the person you've been longing to be.

Perhaps what's missing is a solid foundation of really knowing yourself, without which all the accoutrements we lust after fall in on themselves. What follows will guide you to re-framing your resolutions into meaningful intentions for the year ahead. New Year, Same (Authentic) You.

Learn to appreciate intrinsic rewards

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Stop living for other people. We've heard this said so many times before; it's lost its meaning. So many people claim, 'I don't care what other people think', but few really embody this. Our sense of self-esteem is so closely tied to image that it's almost impossible to distil the life you really want versus the life you want to project to others.  

How many times have you planned a post on social media, fantasising over the little red flags of validation going off, before you're even living that moment? Or bought a new expensive outfit thinking it's going to make you the life of the party, only to be left feeling empty?

As therapist and Attachment specialist Ruth Sugden explains, this is all about learning to appreciate intrinsic rewards over extrinsic ones. "A change for someone else, I think is unlikely to succeed. Extrinsic reward, nice as it might be, for example "wow you look so good", runs out very fast."

"We need to know and be clear that the new habit is of significant benefit to ourselves. That we'll feel more healthy, have more energy, feel we are a more thoughtful person, a better friend, partner or parent."

Ask yourself some tough questions

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Getting to know yourself, what motivates you and what you stand for is the key to deriving your happiness from internal sources (aka intrinsic rewards). It's almost like a personal branding exercise, working out your personal story, a manifesto which you can keep referring back to, ensuring your moral compass is pointing true north.

Ask yourself questions like: What have I been afraid to do? What yearning is emerging? What conversations am I having that make me feel alive? Does this work still fulfil me or is the joy disappearing? When do I feel a genuine sense of connection and belonging?

As Ruth Sugden explains, "The business of "I'll be happier when I'm lighter/smarter/exercise more" I think is a myth. It generally connects happiness and self-esteem to externally validated issues. Unless there is a solid self the goalposts will always change."

Live simply

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Have you noticed that 'minimalism' and 'living with less' are getting a lot of pop-culture air time lately? Spurred by films such as Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, Google searches of 'minimalism' have increased by a whopping 230% from 2016-17 the worldwide.

As Ruth Sugden explains, there is a psychological undercurrent to this trend, "My hunch is that the age of consumerism has run its natural course. Complexity doesn't appear (if you look at mental health statistics) to have made us happy, and we're looking around for alternative ways of living with pleasure and meaning. Humans are wired for connection as opposed to producing or consuming."

While it may not be realistic to eliminate 95% of your possessions, strap on a backpack and roam the world as a free agent - minimalism can be a useful reference point to get back to basics, freeing up your time and resources for what really matters.

You have infinite chances to be new

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Did you know that the Greek word for happiness 'Eudaimonia', literally translates to 'human flourishing'. According to Aristotle, Eudaimonia requires activity and action, a sage reminder that happiness is no friend of laziness.

It's so easy in modern life to get caught up in the minutiae of everyday, we forget that we able to choose our path - our job, our friends, where we live. Remember that you have infinite chances for renewal and regeneration. Newness isn't just a fleeting moment in January. 

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