New Year is the traditional time for taking stock of our lives. It’s the time for deciding on where we are looking to go with our lives over the next 12 months.
We may have some big decisions to be considered – and perhaps taken – or we may be looking at others which are seemingly small but, in the end, have more effect on our wellbeing than those dramatic preoccupations we might have expected to concern us more.
The (smaller) new year resolutions I am thinking about here include such plans as eating less, drinking less, smoking less etc or, to sum up, generally doing less of what’s bad for us and more of what’s good for us.
Gym membership climbs at the beginning of the year and then, after a quick spurt of enthusiasm, the number of people trying to get body perfect drops off. Statistics indicate the same results with eating, drinking and smoking. We start off with good intentions but, as the stress and strain of everyday life returns, we are tempted to go back to our old, less than perfect, ways.
So what is the answer? What effect does trying and failing repeatedly have on us psychologically? Is it a question of “try, try, try again” or perhaps “practice makes perfect” or could it be that we should look at it differently and use another approach altogether?
Let’s look at that old childhood saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again”. Legend has it Robert The Bruce came up with it as he hid from his enemies in a cave, feeling very despondent. He observed the spider’s determination as it tried to spin its web – climbing, falling, climbing again and again and it was that determination that inspired him and his fighters to continue their battle, and to win. The saying is one that many of us can recall as second nature. It’s been instilled in us since childhood.
On the face of it, it’s good. It helps a child to learn that she might need to work to get what they want; it encourages persistence and tenacity and helps the child gain in confidence as they develop a belief in their own individual capabilities.
Some individuals are tenacious and determined and such a saying probably worked sufficiently well for them as children for there to be no need to rethink them as adults. The messages they learned at that impressionable time have carried them through to successful adulthood.
But what when we carry such inner resolutions and don’t actually get to the stage of succeeding because life gets in the way or that saying never suited us? We may have outside influences that make it hard to stay on the stern, strict path to which we’ve committed ourselves?
What about those of us who did try again, and fail again and perhaps not “fail better” as one pithy saying goes but found our self-esteem and confidence took a bit more of a knock than we were prepared for?
Rather like the childhood sayings, New Year’s resolutions are ingrained. As soon as Christmas is over, broadcasters are jabbering about theirs on the radio or inviting people to phone in while friends tell you what they’re doing and ask what your resolutions are. Even if we had no plans, it’s hard to admit that publicly so we may be forced into coming up with something to satisfy our friends.
The problem is, when we say something publicly, the act of saying it out loud means we are making a contract. We are pledging to do something and, if you remember from your childhood, a pledge is very important and considered unbreakable. When we make a resolution, we’re making a contract, even if it’s a promise only to our self. And, if we break it, we feel bad. “You promised,” you can hear your little self say with disappointment. “And you’ve broken it,” your punishing Super Ego points out triumphantly. “You’ve failed big time!”
I would argue that if, like many of us, your resolutions come and go without the satisfying end result you’d planned, it might be that the act of making a resolution, and then not achieving it, is worse than not making one in the first place.
So, if we want to go into the new year feeling peaceful and full of hope for the future, could it be time to give up being resolute in our resolutions. Could this be the time of year when, instead of looking forwards, we look back on the past 12 months in order to see how we can make the next 12 months be even better for us?
If we reflect carefully on what we have achieved and enjoyed over the past year and what we would like to do more of to enrich us emotionally over the next 12 months then, with luck, we stand a reasonable chance of having a happy and hopeful year ahead.
And if, at the same time next year, you’re tempted to go down the resolution road all over again, how about saying positively: “I’ve resolved to give up making resolutions for the New Year.”
That way happiness lies! Meanwhile, may you enjoy 2019.