Resolved: Just three New Year's resolutions

Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 3:32 p.m.

Even before fully digesting that plate of Hoppin' John they enjoyed on New Year's Day, many people already are backsliding on their New Year's resolutions.

Believe it or not, serious analyses have been conducted to determine how many people worldwide annually fail to keep their resolutions. One regularly cited analysis, led by Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in England, found 78 percent of people blow their resolutions.

Until four years ago, I was one of those failures. Since then, I have scrupulously followed through on all my resolutions. And, yes, I have made resolutions for 2010. I will come back to all that shortly.

New year is the most popularly celebrated festival in the world. It began in 46 B.C., when Roman emperor Julius Caesar established Jan. 1 as New Year's Day. Superstitious and fond of symbolism, Caesar named the month of January for Janus, the Roman god of doors and gates. Janus had two faces, one looking forward, the other looking back.

January, then, is the "door" or "gate" to the future. With a new beginning, people were to make amends for their deeds and misdeeds of the past year. Thus began the ritual of making resolutions, vowing new beginnings and promising self-improvements. Many psychologists warn to be careful when making resolutions because most of us set ourselves up for failure by resolving to do things - such as stop smoking or lose weight or save a ton of money - we cannot or will not accomplish. Failure to carry out impossible projects often causes psychological and emotional harm, robbing people of a sense of control for the rest of the year.

"Many of these ideas are frequently recommended by self-help experts, but our results suggest that they simply don't work," Wiseman said. "If you are trying to lose weight, it's not enough to stick a picture of a model on your fridge or fantasize about being slimmer."

Wiseman and others suggest that if we want to keep our resolutions, we should be realistic and practical. Resolutions made on the spur of the moment are the ones most likely to go bust. Having too many resolutions also leads to a lot of failure.

As I said earlier, I used to blow my resolutions, most within a few weeks. Of late, however, I have kept all my resolutions. I never make more than three.

For 2009, I resolved to lose 15 pounds and keep the weight off. I lost 17 pounds by July and have kept them off. I radically changed my diet and the amount I eat. I rarely eat bread of any kind, for example, and I have not had a soft drink or other sugary beverages since July. I rarely use elevators and escalators.

I resolved to fulfill my childhood dream of traveling to Bolivia. I went in July, and it was one of the best trips of my life. At one point, I was reluctant to spend so much money, but I decided that if I did not follow through, I would never make the trip and would be angry at myself forever.

I resolved that I would rewrite my young adult novel and get it in the mail before the end of the year. I mailed it to a publisher last week. I had a tough time rewriting the story because I had to throw out several scenes I had labored over, and I had grown attached to them. I also had the hardest time creating a sympathetic side to my major villain, an old gopher tortoise poacher who does not have a humane bone in his body.

For 2010, I have resolved the following:

I will wash all my dishes before I prepare the next meal. I hate everything about housework, especially washing dishes. I have had so many dirty dishes in the sink that I have hired someone to wash them for me. I resolve to wash dishes after every meal.

I will make a coast-to-coast trip on Amtrak, preferably from Tampa to San Diego and back. Since childhood, I have dreamed of making such a trip in my own sleeping compartment.

Finally, I will take the ferry from Naples to Key West. I lived in Key West from 1979 to 1980, and I loved everything about the place, especially watching ships and boats on the horizons. I vowed that one day I would return to the island by water.

My two travel resolutions for 2010 will be easy. They only involve time and money. Washing dishes after each meal, however, will be tough.

Happy new year, and I hope you keep your resolutions.

Bill Maxwell is a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times.

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