New Year resolutions: optimism v experience

Changing times: January will be sober and meat-free for some. © Cancer Research UK / Veganuary

Around a third of British people are trying to keep new year’s resolutions this month. Is January an ideal chance to improve our lives or an annual bonanza of indulgent wishful thinking?

British people made an estimated 165 million trips to bars, pubs and clubs in December, spending £2.3 billion on alcohol in licensed premises alone. According to one survey, 53% of adults continued to drink even when they did not want to.

But as the new year dawned, many have decided to try going without alcohol during January, for a campaign known as “Dryanuary”. In 2015, two million British people took part; this year, even more are expected to do so, with some of them raising money for charities such as Cancer Research UK.

Dr Yvonne Doyle of Public Health England says the popularity of Dryanuary is “not surprising” and that ‘a period of abstinence could help encourage less harmful, better drinking habits in the long term’. The chief executive of Alcohol Concern, Jackie Ballard, calls the event “an incredible opportunity to give the body a break”.

Around a third of Britain’s population have made new year’s resolutions in 2016, and many of them will try to cut their alcohol consumption. Others have also prioritised their health, most commonly by losing weight, exercising more regularly and eating more healthily.

But many resolutions do not last: 63% of British adults have failed to keep one in the past, and 66% of them broke their most recent one within a month. With this in mind, some have focused on encouraging certain behaviour during January. For example, Dryanuary is joined by the Veganuary campaign, which encourages people to reject all animal products for a month.

January, along with February, only became part of the calendar in the eighth century BC. The month is named after Janus, the Roman god of gates and doors, who has often been depicted with two faces, holding a key. His form is believed to represent the passage from one year to another.

Resolved?

Those making resolutions see the first month of the year as a chance for renewal. A new year allows us to take stock of our lives and to work out how we might improve ourselves, live longer and be happier. The shared social experience of new year’s resolutions and the pressure they create makes January the ideal time to change ourselves for the better.

Others are convinced that sweeping long-term efforts at reinvention are far too extreme and stressful and always doomed to fail. Organisations with many years experience of helping people to turn their lives around, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, believe in one day at a time. Focus on today, they say, and tomorrow will look after itself. And even if you fail today you have not “broken your resolution” for ever. You only made it for one day. It can easily be renewed the following day.

You Decide

  1. Are new year’s resolutions worth making?
  2. Is January the ideal time to improve our lives?

Activities

  1. Make a list of five things you would like to change about yourself this year. Now in percentages give your own realistic evaluation of each -- where 100% means you will definitely succeed and 0% means you will definitely fail.
  2. Team up in pairs. Prepare a five minute presentation to the class suggesting a shared resolution for all. Take a final vote to pick the winner.

Some People Say...

“We will each have the same flaws in 2016 that we had in 2015.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What resolutions could I make?
You might make a resolution to improve your health, like some of those outlined in this article. But a resolution does not necessarily have to be giving something up or doing something you don’t really want to do. You might, for example, set yourself goals for the year — and these could be, for example, academic, sporting or musical. Alternatively, you might try something new to broaden your horizons.
How can I make sure I keep them?
Everyone works differently, but psychologist Kevin Kruze recommends a range of steps to help. Make sure you know what you’re trying to do, and plan how to stay on track. Your goals need to be realistic and you need to be patient. Finally, enlist the support of others — for example your friends and family.

Word Watch

Survey
This was carried out by public affairs research agency TNS BMRB.
Want
27% of those who drank more than usual felt guilty about it and 30% felt run down as a result.
Around a third
A Comres survey for Bupa in November said that 32% of people were planning to make a new year’s resolution. The number may have since changed. Surveys taken at the end of the year tend to find lower numbers of people admitting they made a resolution the previous January.
Most commonly
38% of respondents to the Comres survey said that, if they made a resolution focused on their health and well-being, they would lose weight; 38% said they would exercise more, 30% said they would eat more healthily and 11% said they would drink less alcohol. Other common entries included making more time for themselves, seeing friends and family more and improving their work-life balance.
Calendar
The names of some months reflect the fact the year used to begin in March: September was originally the seventh month, October the eighth, November the ninth and December the tenth. Until 46 AD, January only had 30 days.