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12 Jan 2018

How to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

New Year's resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep, with unrealised goals often leading to feelings of guilt and shame as the months roll by. In order to avoid this cycle of failure and regret, it's important to take a long hard look at your life and come up with a realistic plan that matches your intentions with the outcomes you desire. Imagination plays an important role in this process, both in setting your goals and in working out the specific changes necessary to create the life you want.

The New Year's resolution tradition is mostly found in the Western world, with evidence of seasonal resolutions existing before the birth of the Gregorian calendar. The Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year, the Romans made promises to the god Janus - after whom January is named, and Greek philosophers touted the benefits of a life well-lived. While the modern date of January 1 was only realised in 1582, humans have always longed for a reset button, a new start, a way to remake ourselves and improve on the past.

A New Year's resolution can be anything at all, with popular goals including improved fitness, enhanced physical and mental well-being, and improved finances. Particular problems often inspire resolutions, with busy people wanting to spend more time with friends and family, sedentary people wanting to get active, and people leading chaotic lives wanting to improve their time management skills and get more organised. According to a 2007 study from the University of Bristol, however, 88 percent of people who set New Year resolutions fail - with 35 percent setting unrealistic goals, 33 percent unable to keep track of their progress, and 23 percent forgetting about their resolutions altogether. 

Imagination plays an important role in New Year's resolutions, with people needing to think about the changes they want before they can take shape. According to Professor Kind, who specialises in the philosophy of imagination, "With respect to the cultivation of habits, I think imagination can play a really big and helpful role... Suppose you make a New Year's resolution to go to the gym and by imagining yourself getting up and going to the gym, and getting on the rowing machine or the stationary bike or whatever it's going to be... Once you have really the picture, not just the idea, but the picture of how you're going to be doing these things, it can really shape the self that you want to become."     

Before you make a resolution, it's important to take a good hard look at your life and what it is lacking. While a good imagination is important, there's a strong tendency for people to set unachievable or impractical goals. In order to create real changes, you need to be clear about your goals before investing time and energy into things that are beyond your control. For example, instead of making a resolution to get promoted at work, why not put your energy into being more productive and diligent and let the Universe do the rest. If you can avoid failure and the accompanying sense of sadness, you have a much better chance of setting up sustainable life-long habits based on positive feedback and achievement.


Image source: Alena Romanovskaya/Shutterstock