Why New Year’s Resolutions Are Vital to Our Psyche
I know, I know, you might be coming across this post and you might be thinking to yourself, ‘Oh boy, here is yet another article about new year’s resolutions.” But instead of writing about various resolutions and how we can try to keep them as the new year progresses (I immediately think of the classic ones — eating well and upping the exercise and endorphins for the body-mind connection), I’m more interested in discussing why resolutions became such a streamlined thought in the the first place.
Why do they hold such a significant presence in our culture? Why do we talk about them so much, and why do we feel the need to uphold these new goals, particularly on such a specific date?
New Year’s resolutions promise us a fresh start, a new beginning. A second chance. In all honesty, do we need a date on a calendar to dictate when this can begin? Not exactly. (Nor do we need February 14th to tell us it’s time to express our love for someone, but I digress.)
However, having a date such as January 1, the literal beginning of the new year, is a symbol we may take comfort in. It’s a marker, a reminder, a call-to-action, a clean slate.
“Studies show that people commit to their goals more fiercely after a major benchmark like New Year’s Day,” the 2016 US News article, “The Psychology of Fresh Starts,” stated. “Even a Monday is benchmark enough. It’s the most popular day of the week for starting diets and stopping smoking. There’s something alluring about the cleanliness (or neatness?) of the slate that Jan. 1 presents. A new year represents a new start, a new chance. And for those of us who might have failed last year, and the year before, who doesn’t like another chance?”
A fresh start can truly be poignant for our psyche. This renewed sense of personal development and self-improvement allows us to reflect on what we want to work on, whether it’s an emotional issue we’ve been grappling with, or a practical aspiration we wish to personally achieve. These resolutions give us the opportunity to move forward in the best way possible.
The 2016 article, “Is it the Right Time for a Fresh Start,” posted on The Scientific American, discusses why a temporal landmark (the first day of the year) works in regards to cultivating a fresh start in what is called “the fresh start effect.”
“Temporal landmarks also give us an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, a feeling that inspires beneficial behavior, at least in the short term,” the article notes. “Turning the page on a new year, month, or even week allows us to attribute our negative traits and failures to our past selves. By blaming our past selves, we can create and better maintain a positive image of our current selves. We feel more motivated and empowered to work hard toward reaching our goals when we feel like our past failures are behind us, and our future success is ahead of us.”
In essence, the act of forging a new beginning, also acts as a marker to let go of past mistakes and anxieties and wounds that no longer serves us. We are not only saying ‘hello’ to new commitments, but we are saying ‘goodbye’ to old baggage.
“As long as temporal landmarks highlight a contrast between a desired future state and present reality, and we do not feel close to our ideal state already, then these reflections motivate us to act on our goals,” the article states.
Although we don’t need January 1 to remind us to wipe our slate clean and embark on new emotional and practical beginnings, this date ultimately provides us with a significant symbol; a symbol to create fresh starts and let go of past troubles.
Here’s to 2019, everyone. Let’s make it count!
Suval, L. (2018). Why New Year’s Resolutions Are Vital to Our Psyche. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/why-new-years-resolutions-are-vital-to-our-psyche/