As always, the ringing in of the New Year brings with it a barrage of encouragement to set goals and make resolutions about what you’ll do differently this year. Unfortunately, too often these days seem to focus overly much on personal appearance (females should lose weight, and males should Get Buff) and self-satisfaction. Quite aside from the harmful effects this kind of patriarchal, systemic claptrap can have on developing minds (especially amongst the LGBQTIA+ community), it does absolutely nothing to help protect the ailing planet we live on.
If you, like many other Australians, have recently watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s deeply-moving allegorical movie “Don’t Look Up”, you will understand why we’re speaking about the need to work towards meaningful change through goal-setting and resolutions. But knowing how the human collective mind generally works means we also know people don’t like change unless they can view it from a position of understanding. So, here’s a little history on how New Year’s resolutions became A Thing, and why specific goal-setting techniques are more likely to be successful than you think.
If you’re looking for a list of sustainable, eco-conscious goals to incorporate into your year and want to skip ahead, you can find our tasting platter of ideas here.
The concept of resolutions dates back over 4000 years to the Babylonians, who would resolve to pay off their debts and return borrowed items (often farming equipment used during the harvest). The timing of the ‘new year’ was a little different back then, with mid-March being when the Babylonians celebrated a 12-day celebration upon planting the next season’s crop. It’s believed they declared resolutions with the hope that it would secure a fruitful yield and greater wealth in the year to come.
Julius Caesar changed the calendar to begin on January 1st, and the Romans continued to make resolutions to the gods in an attempt to secure future wealth and prosperity. Interestingly, January is named after the Roman god of doorways, arches and new beginings Janus, who was depicted as having two heads: one that looked forward into the New Year, and one that looked backwards in reflection and resolution.
Then and Now
Since then, we’ve had a change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, but the New Year is still classified as the 1st of January. But around the 1700’s – during the Post-Enlightenment era – there was a distinct shift from religious resolutions to non-religious ones. That is, people stopped making annual promises to deities, and instead started making them a more personal affair.
Over time we’ve also seen a shift in the nature of resolutions being made. From the Gallup Poll taken in America in 1947, amongst the top 10 resolutions were desires to improve personal character, be more understanding, control temper, be more efficient and take greater part in home life. In the 2000’s, the shift has seen more Self based resolutions, focusing on weight loss, control of addictions, falling in love, saving more money, and generally enjoying life to the fullest.
Accept Feedback and Apply Self-Regulation
With the abundant knowledge we have today of how urgent it is for humanity to scale back its consumption, rethink its approach to waste, and turbo-boost efforts to regenerate diverse natural ecosystems around the world, it makes sense to reassess what New Year’s Resolutions mean, and the impact that they can have.
Given the patterns of success rates in New Year’s Resolutions (75% after one week, 64% after a month, 46% after 6 months, but under 15% after a year), it’s valuable to recognise that the most positive change happens in the first half of the year after making a resolution.
There is evidence to show that people who make resolutions are more likely to stick with changes than those who don’t. However, the numbers definitely show that if we want to bring about long-term, sustainable change, we have to work towards setting goals in the first few months that are achievable enough to become part of our regular routine.
A proven way to set goals that are likely to ‘stick’ is to use a framework for creating and monitoring your success. There are several different frameworks that have been shown to work, including the ABC model (Achievable, believable, committed); the SUCCESS model (Subjective, Urgent, Committed, Concrete, Evaluated, Shared, Supported); and the SMART, or SMARTER, goal-setting framework. This model – originally created as a business management tool in the 1980s – encompasses good teaching and leadership practise, and is used in a wide variety of situations these days. What using SMARTER goals does is to remove all the fluff around goal-setting so that it becomes quantifiable and assessable.
Put simply: SMARTER goals allow you to take control of your goals and they make you create an assessment strategy to help keep on track.
There are different words used in the SMART & SMARTER system, as you can see above, but what they basically boil down to is this:
- Get into the nitty-gritty & really know your goal
- Make sure you can tell if you’re on track
- Only set goals that you can genuinely fulfil (use vision boards for the other things)
- Make sure there’s a *point* to achieving each goal
- Set a timeframe. Don’t let it drag on
- Check in regularly to see if you’re actually doing what you need to do
- Tweak your goal if it looks like you’re struggling
Essentially, the more intimately involved you are with your goal, the higher your chances of succeeding. As an example, compare these two goals:
“Live a more sustainable life”
“Reduce my home waste footprint by a quarter before March, by purchasing the less-packaged option of all food I buy at the supermarket.”
You can see how the first goal *sounds* lovely, but the second one offers specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely guidance, which allow opportunities for the goal-setter to evaluate and review their goal if they need to.
“And, how does that make you feel?”
There’s a reason why some goals work, and why others don’t. Studies have shown that around 35% of people who fail their New Year’s Resolutions feel they had originally set unrealistic expectations; 33% say they didn’t keep track of their progress; 23% forgot about their resolutions entirely; and around 10% said they made too many resolutions in the first place.
There are often many factors playing into the success or failure of goals and resolutions, but there are a few clear reasons why having concrete goals to refer to can aid not only in life-fulfillment, but in overall contentment and happiness.
The fact that goals bind us to our current and potential reality has a grounding effect on our mind. Because they call on us to identify our values and visions, goals can help us develop and connect with our identity. Through this process, we undergo self-evaluation, and if we can then set meaningful and achievable goals as a result of that self-evaluation, we are less likely to rely on the validations of others. Succeeding in a self-set goal can improve self-confidence, efficacy, self-reliance and personal motivation.
Re-writing New Year’s Resolutions
Knowing that we want to live a more sustainable life is a great place to start, but a terrible place to stop, to paraphrase Lindsay Miles, author of “Less Stuff” and “The Less waste, no fuss kitchen”, but being more specific can be tricky when you consider all the possible ways you could get started.
One way we like to begin is to refer to the 3 ethics and 12 principles of Permaculture, and conduct an audit of what we’re already doing in our lives, and then working out what we’d like to improve on. You can read a bit more about that here.
Permaculture is a systems-based framework which has been helping people live more ethically sustainable lives for over 40 years, and is an incredible lens through which to view the world when looking to make changes. The foundational ethics of the movement are Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share, and whenever we’re in doubt, we refer to these to guide us towards better choices.
The fourth permaculture principle is “Apply self-regulation and accept feedback”, which is what we set out to do when we create goals for ourselves. The eighth principle is “Design from patterns to details”, and that’s how we like to approach New Year’s Resolutions. Although truth be told, we tend not to rely on big goals set once a year – we prefer to make lots of incremental goals as we go along, constantly creatively using and responding to change (principle 12) along the way.
With the aim of making the first step easier for you, we’ve put together a list of actions you could incorporate into your goals or resolutions. Some of them have secondary actions that you could ‘graduate to’ if you’ve already got a handle on the first steps. Hopefully you’ll find them useful. And we’d love you to share any sustainable goals you’ve successfully achieved in the past!
Permaculture Principle 1: Observe and interact; 2: Catch and store energy; 3: Obtain a yield; 4: Apply self-regulation and accept feedback; 5: Use and value renewable resources and services; 6: Produce no waste; 7: Design from patterns to details; 8: Integrate rather than segregate; 9: Use small and slow solutions; 10: Use and value diversity; 11: Use edges and value the marginal, 12: Creatively use and respond to change.