A Word from Robbin

Robbin Orbison


noun: the act of resolving or determining upon an action, course of action, method, procedure, etc.

Well, at least that’s one definition. Resolution is an interesting word.  Depending on which dictionary you look at, it has up to 15 definitions, including specific meanings in law, medicine, literature and technology. But hey, it’s the New Year, so let’s stick with the one on our minds.

I felt the need get a little history on the New Year’s Resolution (NYR). It turns out the origins of this custom lie in religion. The first known example of people setting NYRs was around 4,000 years ago, when the ancient Babylonians made promises to repay debts in order to maintain good standing with their gods. A few thousand years later, the Romans were fond of promising the god Janus that they would behave themselves during the coming year. Modern religions retain vestiges of these rituals with annual events involving reflecting, atoning, and promising to do better this time around.

How the practice made its way into popular culture is unclear, but in any case, it doesn’t sound like a bad thing to me to mark the passing of a year with some reflection and some planning for improvement. So, I got curious about what people are resolving.

The number one NYR according to every poll I could find is some version of losing weight, exercising and/or eating healthier. Not surprising. Strong runners up include saving money and finding a new job. In fact, health and money account for well over half of all resolutions made. Slightly more interesting but still predictable resolutions appearing in the top 10 include getting organized, managing stress, improving relationships, finding me-time, and doing more traveling and reading. Quitting smoking is surprisingly low on the list. (Maybe because so few people still smoke?)

Most of the information I found covered just the top 10 or so most popular resolutions, so I didn’t find anything surprising, creative or thought provoking.  I guess most people need to continually be attending to their primary concerns and don’t have time to make resolutions to, say, learn origami or try hang gliding or read War and Peace, or wallpaper a room, even.

But the very nature of the typical resolutions may be exactly the reason they fail. About 90% of NYRs fail, and most of them fail before January is even over. A resolution to “read more” is a goal with no plan behind it. “Read War and Peace” is a lot more specific and easier to tackle (ok maybe not War and Peace). So, maybe to work well, resolutions need to be more specific. That makes some sense, as another definition of resolution is a measurement of clarity.

Taking a look at the resolvers themselves, it turns out that the younger you are the more likely you are to make NYRs (make them, not necessarily keep them). Gen Z is the group most likely to make NYRs, followed by Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers in that order. I find that interesting. Evidence that our younger generations have lots of fire and grit for change? Let’s hope so!

The word “resolution” is popular in other ways. It is the title of a horror movie, a novel, a poem, 15 musical works including a song by John Coltrane, multiple corporations, a lot of ships, and several real and fictional towns.

As for how to keep your NYR, there is plenty of advice on the internet. Many say that keeping them realistic is the key. Some say find an accountability partner.  I found one article by a psychologist who suggested avoiding NYRs altogether for 2021 because we’re too busy reeling from 2020 to put that much added pressure on ourselves.

But I’m doing it anyway. As of this writing I haven’t decided what it will be. But I want to make it something other than those boring top 10 and something not work related. Stay tuned!

Share your resolutions with us! Maybe we can be accountability partners for each other.

Wishing you all the best for a joyful and prosperous New Year!