The root of New Year’s resolutions has been traced back to Babylonian times over 4,000 years ago.
The new year is here! 2021 has been challenging in many ways for so many of us but personally has brought with it many blessings for which I am grateful. As I face the new year I am saddled with the decision to make a resolution or not. Historically I have turned my back on this tradition. They don’t seem to work, so what’s the point? This year I’m taking a different approach. Here’s why.
Not surprisingly New Year’s Resolutions have a bad track record for success. Most estimates put success at just over 0%. Like myself many people choose not to make a resolution because they don’t seem to work, but why? If we want to make a change shouldn’t we be able to? When asked, many respondents will blame a lack of willpower or self control. I strongly dislike this perspective because it is self destructive and rarely, if ever true. With an understanding of what a resolution is and an approach based in a well designed philosophy of habits we can all use the hope associated with the new year to create a shift that will propel us closer to optimal health.
The root of New Year’s resolutions has been traced back to Babylonian times over 4,000 years ago. These resolutions were promises to the god’s and made as the crops were planted in March. The Romans are responsible for shifting the “New Year” to the beginning of the calendar year as we know it. An important distinction here is that the promises of the Babylonians were made to someone or something and tied to the success of something important. If your New Year’s resolution was made to God or something greater than yourself and your survival relied on you keeping that promise would you keep it? Probably, but there is more to creating a successful resolution than this.
Modern resolutions are generally associated with a personal desired outcome, losing weight, getting stronger, eating better. These resolutions fail for many reasons but NOT because of lack of willpower. These goals are not met because they are an endpoint and no strategy or system is put in place to achieve them. I have seen many patients achieve amazing success and while their strategies all were unique they did share some commonality which I will use this year for myself and I hope you can use as well.
1. Why? Why do you want this goal? Simon Sinek has written extensively on this topic. Find Your Why is a powerful book. If you don’t know why you want something, your desire to achieve it will quickly fade. When you have a deep understanding of why you want something you have a foundation to come back to when your “willpower” runs thin.
2. Accountability. The Babylonians made a promise to their gods and their crops depended on them keeping it. While this is powerful a more realistic approach is simply to have an accountability partner. This can be God or can come from a friend, family member or service from a company aligned with your goal. Accountability is one of the many factors I attribute to the success of Dr. Ashley Lucas’ PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition.
3. Systems. Expectations cause anxiety, frustration and ultimately failure to achieve. If you focus on your goals, you may fail to see where to put your feet on the path to success. By focusing on your system, you can not only be pleased with your result in the end but also find joy in sticking to the manageable day to day needs of your system rather than focusing on the end goal and subsequently creating an expectation. The best systems are built around good habits.
4. Habits. Our brains are constantly looking to preserve energy and make less decisions. A habit is a routine that has become part of our identity and as such requires no or little thought. James Clear’s Atomic Habits explains in great detail why making the commitment to the right habit is the key to creating the system that will support successfully achieving your New Year’s resolutions. He writes “habits are the compound interest of self-improvement” which smartly compares how compounding a small sum of money over time will lead to big financial gains to how a seemingly small habit similarly repeated over time will lead to big success.
5. Be S.M.A.R.T. Peter Drucker is credited for making famous the acronym SMART for goal setting. Creating a resolution that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely is much more objectively attained than a vague and subjective one.
For 2022 I will be making a resolution. I’m not sure what it is yet, but the hope of a new year is a catalyst I can’t ignore. We all have plenty to work on in our quest for optimization. Like the Babylonians we can sow the seeds of a new crop for 2022. By using the tools and ideas listed I hope you find the inspiration you need to sow this crop with optimization in your mind and hope in your heart.
Happy New Year,