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The words to the song millions sing at midnight each December 31st are said to have been written by Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. Encyclopaedia Britannica says no one knows who wrote the music. Burns refused to take credit for the song, saying it was merely an old poem he discovered. No matter who wrote it, the lyrics are about old friends having a drink together and recalling past adventures. The literal definition of auld lang syne is “old long since,” but they talked differently back then. The figurative meaning of “days gone by” is the thought behind the song. Singing it maintains a 200-year-old tradition of getting drunk and singing. Hogmanay is the name the Scots give their traditional New Year’s Eve celebration. The version that made Auld Lang Syne a tradition in the U.S. was the song Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians first played on the radio December 31st, 1929.

New Year’s Eve

Many Americans celebrate the occasion at home with family and friends, watching on television as the ball drops in New York City’s Times Square. In pre-pandemic days, tens of millions went out to loud and crowded parties where excessive drinking, fireworks, and kissing strangers were part of the tradition. Some have taken up this sort of revelry again but not all.

Over-consuming alcohol is part of how many people celebrate

Time magazine tells us New Year’s Eve is one of the most dangerous holidays of the year because it’s when people are likeliest to get arrested for possessing a firearm while impaired and for firing a weapon in public. Auto accidents also spike dramatically during the twelve-hour period between 6 on New Year’s Eve and 6 the morning after. Auto thefts are at their highest on New Year’s Day. Presumably this is because partygoers can be counted on to sleep late.

Where did New Year’s resolutions come from?

History.com says the Babylonians were the first. Their “new year” resolutions came in the spring, when the new crops were planted. They made commitments to the gods to pay their debts and return things they had borrowed. Four thousand years later, the Romans believed Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches, symbolically looked backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future. Their tradition was to offer sacrifices and make promises of good conduct for the coming year.

Three of four Americans say they plan to make a New Year’s resolution

The top two resolutions are to exercise more and eat less.

Three out of four resolution makers think they will achieve their New Year’s goals

The sad reality is that fewer than one in ten succeed.

I forget – what is the road to hell paved with?

Clinical psychologist Joseph Luciani writes in US News and World Report about holiday remorse. He says “It’s the guilt-driven response we have to holiday excesses that become the catalyst for New Year’s resolutions.” He calls it “the holiday road to hell paved with New Year’s intentions.”

We set ourselves up for failure by choosing unrealistic goals

Danielle Sterling of Syracuse University says the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they’re so unrealistic. “It’s easy to start the New Year with good intentions and a list of resolutions. But it’s hard to follow through with them.” Psychologist Kerry MacAvoy says most New Year’s resolutions are either too grandiose, or we lack the necessary discipline, or both.

Tim Herrera said we make New Year’s resolutions by “setting an under-defined and overly ambitious goal for the new year, giving up two weeks in, and by the end of January, forgetting the whole thing ever happened.”

Psychologists say we unrealistically perceive self-change as easy to achieve

We think it will be easy because the act of telling ourselves we’re going to take action generates feelings of control and optimism that ignore the lessons of prior experience.

Here’s a good stat to know: the gap between making a resolution (75%) and seeing it out (less than 10%) is enormous. It is also a reminder of what research has demonstrated over and over again: the difference between what humans say they will do and what they actually accomplish is huge.

Why do so many New Year’s resolutions fail?

Writing in Psychology Today, Peg Streep says the biggest reason for failure is that most people’s New Year’s resolutions are based on the expectations of others. They are not things they want to do for themselves, but things they feel our families and friends want them to do.

Purposefulhabits.com says our New Year’s resolutions will fail because we lack commitment. It’s easy to be motivated, but maintaining momentum requires serious dedication.

The confidence paradox

Overconfidence unrealistically inflates our expectations of success. When we’re too positive, we’ve doomed ourselves to failure because we’ve overestimated our own abilities and underestimated the time and effort involved. Those who have read Starting A Business? Read This First, already know that enthusiasm is a better predictor of failure than success. Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at NYU agrees, saying studies show “The more people positively imagine their future success, the less well they do in terms of having actual success.” Ain’t paradoxes grand?

If you are serious about making changes in your life and the way you live it, don’t tie them to a calendar invented 400 years ago

If you truly want to make changes in yourself, start with simpler and more attainable goals and take it step-by-step. You can work your way up to the hard stuff.

Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer maintains that we have a better chance of sticking to a goal if we think about contingencies in advance and prepare responses for each of them. He calls this our implementation intentions.

Break away from the herd this year – resolve to not make a New Year’s resolution 

Anaïs Nin, diarist and essayist, said “I make no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning, and molding my life is a daily event for me.” I’ll add that if you feel you must make a New Year’s resolution, please resolve to not have an auto accident while drunkenly shooting at people from your speeding car.

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