That’s right, it’s time to make those promises to ourselves in hopes that the dawning of a new year will motivate us to actually commit to them.
You guessed it, I’m talking about New Year’s Resolutions. Ugh…am I right?
There’s a website I was looking at that stated that after one week, 75% who make a resolution for the new year are still successful. That number drops to 71% after another week. “According to a 2016 study, of the 41% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, by the end of the year only 9% feel they are successful in keeping them,” states the website (discoverhappyhabits.com)
For that very fact, I normally don’t make resolutions heading into the new year. There was one year where I felt depressed because I hadn’t accomplished what I resolved to do.
Going into that new year feeling depressed, I tried to rectify the situation by making resolutions to change why I was depressed. Inevitably, I failed to achieve those resolutions which only worsened the depression. That caused me to make more resolutions… and so on, and so on.
It’s an ugly cycle.
Actually, it’s an ugly version of the Hero’s Journey, if you think about it.
The Hero’s Journey is a theory popularized by Joseph Campbell. If you ever want to read a very boring, but insightful book then I highly recommend Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In it, he states that just about every literary narrative has the same type of pattern.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man,” Campbell writes.
Campbell is accurate too. You can see it in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Frodo lives peacefully in the Shire, he discovers the One Ring, Gandalf comes, they depart on a supernatural trip to destroy the ring, and then Frodo eventually returns back to the Shire. Now, obviously, I can’t sum up the entire trilogy in one sentence, but you get the gist of it. Another example is Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). Peter Parker is living his chaotic life as Spider-Man when people find out his true identity. He seeks out Doctor Strange (literal supernatural world) and then everything breaks apart until Pete realizes what he has to do. At the end, he returns to his normal life having learned his lesson, and better for it. That’s also a very brief explanation, but hey, the movie just released so I’m not going to spoil it for you.
Those two examples were created 67 years apart from each other. I think that proves Campbell right.
“Write what you know,” said Mark Twain.
Sure, the creators of Spider-Man didn’t know how to swing through the streets of the Big Apple. Or battle evil scientists with four extra appendages. However, they knew about things like identity crisis, sacrificing what you love for the greater good, keeping secrets from your loved ones, and all the other human issues that plague Peter Parker. Tolkien didn’t know about how it felt to carry a ring through Middle-Earth, but he might’ve known about addiction, lust for power, and the power of friendship.
Maybe New Year’s Resolutions are necessary in our lives. Maybe they act as an inciting incident in our normal, everyday lives. Maybe they’re the antagonists to us, the protagonists of our own personal story.
In Campbell’s theory, the hero goes through challenges and temptations that will eventually lead to a revelation about themselves that’ll transform them into something else. Have you ever made a resolution about weight loss? If you’re like me, then heck yes you made a resolution like that. Those challenges include trying to fit exercise into your schedule. Those temptations include fast food or Christmas cakes and other delicious calorie heavy holiday treats.
The Hero’s Journey models the structure of a New Year’s Resolution. Even in that regard, Joseph Campbell seemed to be right. I hope I’ve made a convincing argument about that.
The journey starts Jan. 1. Hopefully by Dec. 31 you’ve returned home as a newer, better person ready for the next adventure.
The new year approaches so you’ll have to prepare. Life’s an adventure and you’re the hero. Go ahead and make those resolutions, incite those incidents, thwart all the challenges and overcome those temptations. Life is short when you think about it so you’d better make the most of what you’ve got. For me, I’ll make some resolutions and try to stick with them. If I fail, I’ll fail knowing that I at least (for a little bit) tried my best.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” – Gandalf (technically it’s Tolkien, but it’s more epic coming from a wizard).
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