In the dizzy myriad of rituals that constitute the holiday season, many promises are made — to be nice, rather than naughty; to dedicate, rather than desecrate; to unite, rather than divide.
However, only one such promise is made with the singular goal of self-betterment — the act of which is taken up by all, regardless of race, religion, age or gender.
As a new year begins, thousands will to change something in their lives. Resolutions may seem over-hyped, but seldom do we understand the almost predisposed human inclination to resolve.
“As far as I know, resolutions can go back as far as 400 B.C., when the Babylonians would make promises to their gods and things of that sort, to live better lives in the future,” said Kirk French, a Penn State anthropology professor. “The Romans did it as well — it was more of a religious thing.”
The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who had two faces — looking backward and one looking forward, French said. It seems that not only have we adopted the name of the month but also the practices associated with beginning again.
“There’s a natural cycle with the planet,” French said. “Things appear to start over with each season. When we first started growing food and relying on the seasons, I think, as humans, we became much more aware.”
According to a Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll released on Dec. 27, 40 percent of Americans will to make some changes with the coming cycle of this year.
But just how many of them succeed? And just what do resolutions say about us?
Crossing the Finish Line
As the ball drops in Times Square, cheers peal the start of a new year with a familiar American struggle between flat bellies and fast food. Thus begins the glut of dieting to purge holiday-feasting sin, and the fierce fitness club memberships to trim the fat for beach season.
This rush to get in shape can be seen locally as students get in gear for spring break 2013.
“I think it’s pretty standard… every January a lot of folks decide their New Year’s resolution is to join a gym,” TJ Turner, owner of Momentum Fitness, said. “Say 100 people join a gym in January... generally 40 of them continue on in February.”
At Titan Fitness and MMA (acquired by The North Club), there has also been an increase in membership this January, owner Paul Zelinka said.
Of the 40 percent of Americans who plan to make a resolution for 2013, 17 percent desire to lose weight and 8 percent desire to exercise more, according to the Marist poll. Mathematically speaking, that’s approximately 31 million Americans looking to make a physical change.
Overall, research shows that in the first two weeks, 75 percent of people are still sticking to their resolutions. On the flip side, this means that 25 percent of people stop trying within the first two weeks, said Kristy Dean, an assistant professor of psychology at Grand Valley State University.
With such failure rates, what can be done to ensure adherence to resolutions?
According to Dean, a little specificity goes a long way.
“Make sure to set a specific and realistic New Year’s resolution,” Dean said. “If you have a general ‘get fit’ resolution, how are you going to do that? If you’re more specific about it, it’s easier to implement and you can make sure you’re meeting this goal.”
Head in the Game
Many others look to make attitudinal changes. Goals such as improving stress management and even enjoying life more are fairly common resolutions and certainly ones that many Penn State students desire, Mary Anne Knapp, PSU Counseling and Psychological Services clinical/social worker, said via email.
“Sticking to a schedule, exercising, eating and sleeping regularly, [and] studying more to improve grades are common,” Knapp said. “For those who don't relax enough, engaging in pleasurable activities can also be a goal.”
Knapp also added that CAPS provides a range of services including initial assessment, short-term individual and couples counseling for those who seek it.
It seems also that a certain attitude toward goals has an important effect on their fulfillment.
“If we view ourselves as defined by our relationships and group memberships, this impacts how much our expectancies play a role in our goal success,” Dean said. “For example, if you anticipate that you will do well with this goal, then that will be more likely with whether you actually do lose weight. If you’re optimistic it’s going to be influential, if you’re pessimistic that might actually harmful. If you view yourself as very distinct, as independent, expectancies don’t really play a role.”
Playing by the Rules
It’s not just citizens and laymen who make resolutions.
Yearly, the State College Borough Council drafts objectives. The last set was amended toward the end of October 2012, but includes a number of goals for the coming year.
According to an Oct. 31 strategic goals list provided by Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, the council intends to maintain safe, stable and attractive neighborhoods.
Another priority is fostering commercial revitalization by encouraging Penn State graduates to stay in the area as young professionals who can redevelop unused commercial spaces. The council has partnered with the university and other business development organizations to meet these goals.
Furthermore, the council wants to see partnering with local, regional and state entities to expand cooperation and funding, expansion of housing opportunities and improvement of community infrastructure.
An issue that is just now being addressed by the Borough Council and holds special value to Goreham is the environment.
“As mayor, I want to speak out more constructively and effectively about environmental issues,” Goreham said. “I think that is a real priority for our area, our country and our planet. We are all connected through the environment.”
In the End
In the newly-renovated Starbucks, 232 W. College Ave., there’s an unassuming community board that simply reads “What’s your New Year’s Resolution?”
On it, a modest amount of responses are scrawled.
“I would like to think more positively and appreciate every day,” reads one written by Sarah.
Another, penned by Rasheeda, aims to “stay fabulous.” Nestled next to that is one by Kevin C. that promises to be “more responsible in spending and saving” and to “make it to classes.”
Fail or succeed, we are united by the unwavering and resolute determination to make progress and change.
But it doesn’t always have to be complicated.
“I want to send more thank-you notes,” Goreham said. “It’s embarrassing to remember all the kindness people have given to me that I’ve never really responded to.”