By MARSHA MERCER
There’s one – and only one -- foolproof way to avoid the disappointment of breaking your New Year’s resolutions: Don’t make any.
Let me quickly say that I do not subscribe to this strategy of avoidance, although many people do.
I’m a serial resolution maker. I love the freedom of the fresh start. The clarity of the clean slate. The blue sky of the blank page. I may not achieve my goal, but then again, I may. What have I to lose by trying?
As the lottery people say, you can’t win if you don’t play.
The first month of the year is the great equalizer. Each of us can erase the old and have 12 months to paint our new life. OK, we also have 12 months to fail, as if it takes that long. We usually fall off the road of good intentions in a couple of weeks.
But this time could be…will be!…different. And off we ride into the clutter-free land of health, wealth and size 4.
Forty-four percent of Americans said they planned to make New Year’s resolutions for 2015, a Marist Poll reported last month. That’s about the same as a year ago, but a jump from 2004. A decade ago, only 35 percent planned to make a resolution. The poll didn’t explore why people changed.
Fifty-nine percent of people said they kept their resolutions in 2014 – which sounds high. But it compares with the 72 percent who said they’d kept theirs a year earlier. Really? Could we be seeing a wee bit of selective memory at work?
The great 18th century essayist and biographer Samuel Johnson said second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience. The same can be said of New Year’s resolutions. We know all too well what happened before, but…that was then.
Social scientists at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School say that certain time landmarks, such as birthdays and holidays, “create discontinuities in time perceptions that make people feel disconnected from their past imperfections…and disrupt people’s focus on day-to-day minutiae, thereby promoting a big-picture view of life.”
And that encourages people to engage in “aspirational behavior,” write Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman and Jason Riis in their paper on “The Fresh Start Effect,” published online in June in the journal Management Science.
I don’t know about all that, but I do know that January gives me a sense of possibilities that isn’t there most months, although back-to-school September always calls me to a new beginning.
In any case, younger people are more likely to make resolutions than oldsters. Among those under 45, more than half said they were very likely or somewhat likely to make a resolution for 2015. For those 45 and older, only about one in three said they were likely or somewhat likely to do so.
Interestingly, men and women are almost equally likely to make resolutions – 43 and 44 percent, respectively -- but men are slightly more likely to keep them. Or so they say.
So let’s say you make a resolution. Some behaviorists who study how people keep resolutions suggest that it’s better to think small -- resolve to lose five pounds, not 50. Write down specific goals. Tell people. Keep track. Other experts, though, say it’s best to keep your resolutions vague. Don’t monitor yourself too closely or you might get discouraged.
In light of such contradictory advice, you could consult your Uncle Sam. Seriously.
The website www.usa.gov has a page on Popular New Year’s Resolutions. At the top of the list is Lose Weight, Americans’ No. 1 goal. There’s also Manage Stress, Save Money, Get Fit, Drink Less Alcohol and eight others. Each of the 13 topics links to other government sites for free help.
For example, click on Quit Smoking and you go to smokefree.gov, where you can choose to write a quit plan, call a live counselor and sign up for supportive text messages and free apps.
“It doesn’t matter where you start. Just start,” smokefree.gov says in big, bold letters.
That’s not bad advice. Just start.
Happy New Year! And good luck.