Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

After waking up mid-afternoon from a long night of celebrating, I hopped on Facebook and wrote what I thought would be an all-encompassing resolution to start the New Year with:

I'm pretty proud of my rudimentary Paint skills, lol.

This prompted an emailed response from someone I hadn't heard from in awhile, questioning whether substantial change through "sheer will" was possible. She attached this article from the Times, which cites medical examples of people reverting back to bad habits (i.e. dieters regaining weight) and the opinion of a clinical psychologist named Marian Kramer Jacobs who thinks there are evolutionary reasons as to why change is hard to maintain:
If one believes that human beings are social animals, our hierarchies within families, governments and businesses depend on people who know their roles and perform them dutifully. "We're hard-wired not to change quickly," Dr. Jacobs said. "Think of what chaos would ensue if you could snap your finger and change instantly tomorrow. You would be one person today, someone else tomorrow."

The article goes on to say the belief that change is impossible can seem unpatriotic given America's history of movements and revolutions, our love of rags-to-riches icons, and self-improvement stories, yet numbers show "that after six months, only about 45 percent of the subjects managed to stick to their pledges." It ends noting that resolutions centered on healthy self-acceptance is more realistic than wide-sweeping change.

This all got me thinking whether or not resolutions are a wholly American (or Western) concept. What a luxury it is to consider the evolutionary or psychological reasons why we make resolutions! In societies where the caste you are born into most likely will be the one you die in, is there an urge to make resolutions to better oneself with the coming new year? Or is making resolutions just part of being human, wanting to change for goodness' sake, for the approval of others, or to move up in more fluid social systems, to make something better of yourself? Is there something wrong with looking back on the year as it draws to a close and thinking about ways to improve yourself in the coming year? In evolutionary speak, maybe making resolutions and being part of the 45% who succeed effects genetic fitness and allows successful resolution keepers to send their "quit-smoking-do-pilates-be-kinder" genes into the next generation.

What do you think?


Katie said...

You bring up some very interesting points about New Years Resolutions-- something well all tend to do, but not always think about too deeply. It may be of interest to you that I've been reading a book called "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life" by Daniel G. Amen MD because I've been very interested in learning more about the mind and brain and how it influences behavior/mood/etc. There's a passage in this book that struck me as especially interesting because I read it Dec. 31 as I was thinking about New Years Resolutions: "North Carolina neuropsychiatrist Thomas Gualtieri succinctly summarized the human functions of the prefrontal cortex as the capacity to formulate goals, to make plans for their execution, to carry them out in an effective way, and to change course and improvise in the face of obstacles or failure, and to do so successfully in the absence of external direction or structure. The capacity of the individual to generate goals and to achieve them is considered to be an essential aspect of a mature and effective personality. It is not a social convention or an artifact of culture. It is hard wired in the construction of the prefrontal cortex and its connections." If you buy into this theory, it seems that making resolutions like we do at the first of every year is a very natural phenomenon-- although timing it at the first of every year is probably a product of our culture.

Mademoiselle Frou-Frou said...

that's the best resolution i can think of. be the best version of YOU! best of luck. ;-)