It’s getting to be about that time. Maybe you’ve already gotten a head start on making your New Year’s resolution list. Or maybe you categorically refuse to participate in the ubiquitous tradition of self-denial or self-improvement. Love it or hate it, we can not escape the New Year’s resolution. Even if we flat out refuse to participate, we still know it’s there, looming.
“The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the New Year—though for them the year began not in January but in mid-March, when the crops were planted. For early Christians, the first day of the New Year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future. In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.” – History.com
Although New Year’s resolutions are rooted in some form of religion, the universal New Year’s proclamation of change and improvement are mostly secular in our modern age.
So why do we humans make New Year’s resolutions at all? In a word, hope. We are nothing if not a hopeful species. Hope fueled by intention, imagination and action have transformed our world from the primitive Babylonian culture to our ever advancing modern society.
So if we start with the premise that human beings are hard wired to be hopeful then how do our hopeful expectations have the power to change our realities? It turns out if our brains are fed positive messages or positive feedback, even in response to mistakes we’ve made, the brain adapts and corrects itself. In other words, we can learn and grow from our mistakes. In short, we evolve and improve.
Conversely, if our brains receive negative messages or feedback after we’ve made a series of errors, our brain sends a message that tells us that we can’t succeed. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we tell ourselves we can’t, then we most assuredly won’t.
Science has concluded that negative expectations shape outcomes in a negative way. And while science has also determined that all humans, despite class or socio-economic status, believe things will turn out better than they actually will, it’s still possible for each individual to shape his/her reality by the verbal and nonverbal messages we receive. And with that, repetition matters.
The good news, anyone can form new thought patterns or habits. The bad news is that it takes much longer than the 21 days that many experts suggest. Research conducted by Phillippa Lally at the University College London shows that it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic – 66 days to be exact. Worse, other variables such as the person, the type of habit or behavior and the circumstance surrounding the change itself can significantly impact how long it takes to form a new habit, citing anywhere from 18 to 254 days!!!
“In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life — not 21 days.” – James Clear, Huffington Post. The good news. It’s possible.
The human spirit is nothing if not resilient. Most of us at one time or another must face those things we would rather deny. Weight issues, illness, job loss, relationship crisis’s, financial hardships, negative circumstances of our own doing, natural disaster, death. Although most of us would prefer not to talk about it, some of these issues are a reality for most of us. But that doesn’t change the fact that we all have the ability to rise above, and change what we can. So here’s to the New Year and our resolutions. Bring on the hope!