“It’s my year”….. The ending of the year and beginning of a new one is a great time to evaluate what is working in life and what isn’t, these ‘state of the union’ style conversations are done with friends or internally and help bookend the year and plan change. The New Year is the catalyst for transformations, good intentions and resolutions; it has been for thousands of years. The origin of making New Year’s resolutions rests with the Babylonians; four thousand years ago they celebrated the New Year with an 11-day festival in March. They made promises to their gods that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts…….. So not much has changed! By the first century B.C. the Romans had moved the first day of the year to January 1st to honour Janus, the god of beginnings, but this idea took time to develop. However, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII brought the January 1st New Year back into fashion by adding it to the Gregorian calendar.
The most common New Year’s pledges revolve around health – losing weight, giving up smoking, exercising more and eating less. A new life of promises, exercise, gym memberships and running. New lycra and expensive equipment are bought in the hope of accelerating change. Converted and convinced the gear will produce transformation, the new watch will time it and the runners will be the vehicle. But all this equipment and intention won’t get you off the couch, or mind the children for an hour while you sneak away for a quick gym session or run. Often New Year’s resolutions are desires rather than intentions. Unfortunately goals to get outdoors more, reduce stress, meditate, and put a stop to the smartphone obsession are rarely successful. By February, few have achieved a Zen like state and even less have achieved the physique of cover models. In fact, according British psychologist, Professor Richard Wiseman, up to 88% of all resolutions end in failure (survey of over 3,000 people, 2007). This reality is further reinforced by a longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts which showed that seventy-seven percent upheld their pledge for barely one week and only 19% for 2 years. (Norcross & Vangarelli, 1988). So intentions rarely end in action (McManus, 2004), and yet every year commitments are made that will probably never be met, and unresolved resolutions are carried forward to next year with a few more added in.
Successful resolvers employ more stimulus control, reinforcement, and willpower than those that fail (Norcross & Vangarelli, 1988). If you aren’t thinking about changing, no one else is going to be able to make you. It is your choice. There are no right or wrong choices, just decisions and consequences. The motivation behind making choices is explained by the self determination theory, which describes extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. Extrinsic motivation is drawn from outside influences. Perhaps you’re running to lose weight, collect a medal or a T-shirt. These are all extrinsic motivations. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is derived from finding enjoyment in the activity itself. You do it because you love it, not because it helps mould “washboard abs” or brings recognition from friends. Intrinsic motivation makes an activity like running fun, and transforms it from being a mere part of the daily routine into a lifetime hobby. External motivation fades quickly, while internal motivation makes running and exercise part of your daily routine (Teixeira et al., 2012). This doesn’t mean extrinsic motivation should be completely disregarded. New runners are motivated initially by external rewards (weight loss, medals etc), but as they become more experienced, they develop deeper feelings of enjoyment, well being and the sense of belonging to a community (Ronkainen et al., 2013).
Successfully changing behaviour is dependent on effective goal setting. When forming goals, they should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed. A common trend from many New Year’s resolutions “I want to get fit” is unspecific, vague, undefined and has no end point. However if this is changed to “I want to complete a 5 km in my home town during spring time” it hits all the marks. Specific – absolutely, it’s walking/running a stated distance. Measureable – you either complete or don’t complete the race. Achievable – there are numerous plans that can help get you from your couch to 5km in 6-8 weeks. Realistic- Hell yes! Timed –there is a definite end point, the race. Tell people, they will help! Sharing goals makes them real, makes them public and makes the goal setter accountable. Get help and guidance from people with experience, they have done it before. Lack of Motivation, whether it is intrinsic or extrinsic is an easy excuse on a cold, wet January night. It can result in choosing the fire and Netflix over Lycra. Making a commitment to a group and setting SMART goals with advice could make the difference between watching the Game of Thrones and pounding the pavement. But ultimately you’re only accountable to you, and you control the variables that decide the success or failure of your resolutions…….. Do it or just add it to next year’s list!
McManus C. (2004). New Year’s resolutions. Bmj 329, 1413-1414.
Norcross JC & Vangarelli DJ. (1988). The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts.J Subst Abuse 1, 127-134.
Ronkainen NJ, Ryba TV & Nesti MS. (2013). ‘The engine just started coughing!’ – Limits of physical performance, aging and career continuity in elite endurance sports. J Aging Stud 27, 387-397.
Teixeira PJ, Carraca EV, Markland D, Silva MN & Ryan RM. (2012). Exercise, physical activity, and self-determination theory: a systematic review. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 9, 78.