Culture

Resolutions Are Worthless Without Resolve

It's the second day of 2018. Have you kept your New Year's resolutions, or have you already fudged?

Robin Smith · Jan. 2, 2018

It’s the second day of 2018. Have you kept your New Year’s resolutions, or have you already fudged?

According to a Huffington Post Lifestyle article last week, the top six New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, get organized, learn to say “no,” travel more, spend more time with family and learn a new skill or hobby. Yet, as most can attest, it’s much easier to make resolutions than to keep them.

Which category do yours fall into? Is your refrigerator stocked with new foods for a new diet? Do you have a new exercise regime planned? Do you plan to stop smoking or avoid unhealthy substances that impair your physical and mental health? Will you focus this year on plans to save more money in your budget?

Why do we make statements of intent and verbalize promises that don’t materialize? Why do we fail to keep our resolutions?

Well, much of it has to do with the misguided belief that intentions are equal to actions. But it may be more than just wrongheaded indoctrination in the era when everyone gets a participation trophy just to keep self-esteem hyper-inflated.

A psychological model, the Self-Completion Theory, teaches that self is defined by the way society responds to the individual who, in turn, defines oneself using symbols of accomplishment and communicates that self-definition to society using these symbols. Let’s use the most common resolution of health improvement as an example.

Why do we buy, adorn and employ some of the symbols of health without actually following through with exercise and a meaningful change in diet? In our pursuit of a fit physique, we’ll stock the pantry with trendy foodstuffs to be part of the latest consumption craze only available at the upscale markets, and we’ll talk about new exercise plans or the new-fangled piece of equipment we’ve got shoved into the corner of our bedroom. We may even don sleek active wear that’s fashionable while you sweat — or apparently while you shop for overpriced organic baby spinach. We may even abandon our watches for mini-computers worn on our wrists that may tell time but prominently serve notice that you’re into counting your steps, scoring big identity points in the moving crowd.

To portray a symbol of health as part of an identity, one engages in activities to project these and other symbols to meet that societal definition.

So we’ve got our goods, gear and go plan, but why don’t we follow through? Interestingly, in this same model of behavioral study, research shows that just talking about these symbols and modeling some of the activities publicly suffices as having obtained a goal or met a certain identity, rather than authentically fulfilling it. Simpler put, for some, good intentions are the same as actually achieving an identity or goal.

In the May 2009 edition of Psychology Science, a study was published observing this self-completion theory with this fun nugget of truth. The results demonstrated that “identity-related behavioral intentions that had been noticed by other people were translated into action less intensively.” The study added that “when other people take notice of an individual’s identity-related behavioral intention, this gives the individual a premature sense of possessing the aspired-to identity.”

You want others to see something as you say something about your new self-identity as a person doing healthy things. Observing this model, it simply means when others see us doing something publicly or engage with us about our identity symbols, we receive as much satisfaction as we would in achieving the end goal.

That fits into the culture of 2018 perfectly. Life is lived on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with selfies rather than substance.

Ok, so we stink at keeping resolutions, but where did the practice begin? Were they hatched as part of our non-stop retail culture to appeal to our appetites to buy new stuff?

New Year’s resolutions date back to the Babylonians 4,000 years ago, when promises were made to their gods in mid-March — their new year based on the planting season. The Babylonians would observe a 12-day festival, crown a new king and promise their deities that they would pay their debts and returned borrowed objects. Rome, during the days of Julius Caesar, fiddled with the calendar to make January 1 the start of the calendar, observing the new year with offerings made to their multitude of gods and with gifts of honey and figs given to neighbors.

Early Christians chose to observe the new year by reflecting on past mistakes with a commitment to correct the same. If you live in the South, the traditions include great food with a dash of superstition. A supper on the first day of the year of black-eyed peas (for luck), collard greens (for financial goodness), hog-jowl or a cut of ham (for health, prosperity and progress) served with a pone of cornbread (for the golden opportunities ahead) rounds out the resolutions with a little lore.

Whatever your resolutions, it’s worth remembering with a clear mind that meeting your goals isn’t just about the aims themselves, but is most importantly about resolve. Good health existed before the gadgets, gestational gymnastics and gym glamor. Living a healthy lifestyle is a function of one’s decision to avoid bad habits such as excess, sedentary living and poor diet. Being able to save money has always been about making the decision to live beneath your means and having a reserve fund.

Make 2018 the best year ever! The Law of the Harvest is another of life’s irrefutable formulas that proves you reap what you plant, not what you talk about sowing or intending to sow. Make 2018 about your own resolve.

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