Did you make resolutions this year? I have a few; and since I’m writing this before the New Year, and you’re reading it after, wish me luck.
After all, I think I’ll need it. I read in a New York Times article that 88 percent of people who make resolutions don’t keep them.
They are generally lofty goals, and if there’s more than one, it’s just not realistic to believe we’ll be able to hit the gym three times a week, spend less money (there’s a contradiction already) and get organized, all starting on really an arbitrary day and in hopes of lasting the year, if not our entire lives.
A friend suggested recently that New Year’s resolutions might not be the way to go. If we felt so resolute about something, why did we wait until the beginning of a new year? Really, any day could be labeled a fresh start. The act of making New Year’s resolutions may have been an act of procrastination.
And, I’m confident that if we eased into these things, instead of pressuring ourselves to start or stop something cold turkey, we would have better success achieving our goals.
That same New York Times article suggested that the willpower portion of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, acts a lot like a muscle; it can only do so much at one time. How much weight can your bicep lift? The point is that there’s a limit.
I’d like to think that, with practice, the prefrontal cortex could handle more and more; but right now, the fact is that we’re limited. We may not be physically able to keep every resolution.
So here’s a question that’s been asked before: Why do we make them? Why is there a hope that things will be different after we stayed up late making noise and drinking bubbly liquids, counting down to a clock that is probably not dead-on? (Is the TV broadcast really set accurately to the atomic clock, or whatever clock we’re supposed to use? I’ve wondered.)
But it doesn’t matter. I love New Year’s Eve. I love the noise makers, streamers, the countdown and staying up late without thinking twice.
There’s one of my resolutions (I have lots, even though I’ve convinced myself they’re a bad idea): I resolve to stop thinking twice about things. Or, maybe I should resolve not to think thrice (as I just thought twice about whether I should stop thinking twice).
Another resolution is to get outdoors more. January to March is the time when I really kick into hibernation mode — lots of comfort foods, extra sleep and little movement. It’s not a good deal, mentally or physically.
Here’s another: I was taught not long ago that to take good care of plants, you have to remove the leaves that are dying. “So it doesn’t send energy to the bad parts,” my friend said. There’s a metaphor there, and it’s a resolution: I resolve not to send energy to things that won’t be helped by it.
My New Year’s toast will have been to hoping, if you’re like me, you read the studies and still made several resolutions.
So, if you’ve kept your resolutions so far, way to go! Pat your prefrontal cortex on the back and keep going. If not, well, don’t feel too guilty. Stretch your prefrontal cortex and try again.