This year, Chifuku Kuwahara, an aspiring artist from Roxbury, is making a New Year’s resolution he knows he’s going to keep: He’s vowing to make no resolutions.
“There’s this cultural idea that you have to come up with something,” he said, “but pressuring yourself on New Year’s Eve is the wrong way to do it.”
Every year a substantial portion of the population sets a personal fiscal or dietary or no-smoking cliff. Studies show that about 60 percent of American adults plan to make a resolution and that 40 percent actually do, said John Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton and author of “Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing your Goals and Resolutions.”
But what about the other 40 percent, who not only don’t make resolutions, but don’t even aspire to? Who gave them permission to opt out of a ritual that historians say dates back to Babylonian times, when the ancients promised to repay debts and return borrowed items?
The abstainers fall into two categories: those who say the annual rite is for wimps who put off making necessary changes and those who have been repeatedly burned by their own failings.
Sandy Poirier, the owner of Shag hair salon in South Boston, is decidedly in the first group. “I don’t have to start fresh with the New Year,” he said. “I stay in shape. I work out. I’m a good person.”
He shared his theory about people who declare their intentions to change in the new year. “It’s like taking a test drive [in] a fast sports car,” he said. “You’re never going to be able to afford it. It just gratifies you for that second.”
Brenda van der Merwe, a realtor from Watertown, agrees.
“If you are going to live life well, you should already be doing it,” she said.
Van der Merwe sniffed at those who say “This what I’m going to do about my life after this date passes,” declaring that “it’s just a way of putting it off.”
But Jessica Hazelton, a native Bostonian home from Los Angeles for the holidays, says that she has come to her no-resolution policy after yearly failures. “I would always get disappointed with myself,” she admitted.
Now Hazelton sets goals, not resolutions, and makes them over the year. In October, she kicked off a healthy living push with a juice cleanse. “I feel like I’m constantly trying to be a better person,” she said as she shopped in the Fenway.
Statistics on the resolutions market are hard to come by, but the self-help industry is thriving, according to Marketdata Enterprises, a Tampa-based publisher of research reports. The firm estimates that the industry in the United States will hit $10.44 billion in 2012, $11.07 billion in 2013, and $12.24 billion by 2016.
But the antiresolution camp has its devotees, said Marc Cowlin, director of marketing for CafePress, an online retailer that sells, among other items, magnets reading, “My resolution is to spend more time avoiding friends and family,” and drinking glasses that proclaim, “Let’s resolve to repeat last year’s mistakes.”
As Cowlin pointed out, it’s easier to buy a cheeky mug than it is to lose weight or stop smoking. “There is something about adding a layer of humor that takes the sting out” of giving up on the annual rite, he said.
Failure to keep resolutions is so pervasive that it has spawned its own genre of New Yorker cartoons. “Nope, no New Year’s resolutions for me this year,” reads one, “I’m still working on a backlog dating from ’87.” Another shows a man on a street with a paper shredder and a sign. “Shred your New Year’s resolutions 50¢.”
Why do most of us continue to proclaim that come Jan. 1 we are going to stop wolfing down brownies or file our expense reports on time?
Joseph Boskin, a Boston University professor emeritus of American social history, says that believing we have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves is a significant American characteristic.
“That plays into the whole concept of therapy,” he said, “and that’s why Oprah was such a powerful force. She captured this in her own persona.”
Boskin never makes resolutions, he said, “but I wouldn’t mind if many people I know would indeed change. I would applaud it, but I think I’m more cynical than that.”
Of course, change, particularly big change, is hard, says Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University and author of “Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting it Done.”
People unintentionally sabotage themselves by setting unrealistic goals, say, losing 40 pounds in one month, he said.
“We are in this instant generation. If you are trying to lose 40 pounds and you lose four, you’re disappointed,” he said. “But if your goal is four and you lose six, you’ll be happy.”
He advises people to set small goals, reward themselves along the way, and consider making resolutions public, perhaps on Facebook. “Now you are going to be held accountable,” he said.
But in Belmont, Zayna Gold, co-owner of the Boston Body Pilates and Barre Studios, said she has sworn off resolutions, even small ones. This year, for the first time ever, she is not vowing to lose weight.
“Just knowing I was going to make the resolution was a license to binge over the holidays,” she said. “Now I don’t even want to overeat. This is crazy, but I’ve lost 5 pounds. I’m thinner than before I had children.”
So is not making resolutions the way to go? Not for most of us. Consider this one last statistic, from Norcross, the University of Scranton professor. People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than equally motivated people who do not.