LAWRENCEVILLE - The tradition of New Year's resolutions dates back 4,000 years to the Babylonians whose most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. While today's resolutions rarely involve plows or hoes, it is a time when Americans swear to forego their most notorious habit in the coming year.
"People are always wanting to hope for better things as though there's something magical about Jan. 1," said Joel Hitt, a Lawrenceville psychotherapist. "It's a symbolic time to start over and turn a new leaf. I think we invest a lot of hope that the new year will bring greater things to us."
Unfortunately, many people look at New Year's resolutions like a magical wish and that's why so many of them fail, Hitt said.
Three popular resolutions are getting in shape, quitting smoking and improving family ties, but all three involve lifestyle changes that few realize take serious commitment.
Hit the gym
Health clubs see a significant rise in enrollment during the start of the new year. Gold's Gym manager, Ed Bowan said the Lilburn location sales skyrocket from $50,000 a month to $100,000-plus during January and
Most of his clientele want to lose weight, but he said he's seen more people coming in for stress-related reasons. Whatever the reason, the trick is to keep the spark of motivation alive, said Joey Friend, sales representative at Gold's Gym in Norcross.
"It's about having a self-drive. Some people can hit a goal in a month and they drop off but they need to be on a regular program for the rest of their lives," said Friend, who has worked in the fitness industry 15 years.
Improving one's fitness is about a lifestyle change, and many people give up resolutions because people don't break their goals down into bite-sized chunks, Hitt said.
"Many people make sweeping goals like 'I'm going to lose 50 pounds,'" he said. "It's probably more realistic to say 'I'm going to lose 25 pounds' and set it up into sub goals."
In addition to people wanting to shed pounds, many Gwinnettians try to shed their nicotine addiction. During January and February alone the Center for Nicotine Dependency in Norcross sees a 50 percent increase in patient volume, according to marketing manager Donna Maxwell. This week she's booked full, she said, and January's schedule is starting to fill up, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, resulting in approximately 440,000 deaths each year. And although quitting smoking tops the list of New Year's resolutions, many return to their old smoking ways within a year despite nicotine dependency treatments.
People return to smoking because there is a physiological addiction as well as physical addiction, said June Deen, spokeswoman for the American Lung Association.
"There's more to smoking than just pulling that smoke into your lungs. Nicotine is a fascinating drug; it can pick you up or it can make you calm," Maxwell said.
The addictive ingredient, nicotine, is only one of 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Other ingredients include tar and carbon monoxide, which are highly toxic and can lead to diseases such as cancer.
"Many people recall when they started smoking they didn't like it," Deen said. "They learned how to smoke due to peer pressure and marketing allure."
For those looking to quit there are many strategies available on the market. Nicotine gums and patches are popular, but some try nontraditional methods like hypnosis and acupuncture. For the strong who stop cold turkey the success rate is only 7 percent as compared to the success rate of gums and patches, which is 20 percent, said Maxwell.
"I personally think there is no such thing as willpower. I think there is commitment," she said. "Willpower means you'll try, but commitment means you're not going to do it again."
Another common resolution people make is trying to improve family relationships.
"I see a lot of families wanting to make changes," Hitt said. "I see kids wanting to get along with their families, but they need to do an attitude shift."
Counseling children and parents on re-establishing the center of their home is something he focuses on during therapy sessions.
"Lots of times we're getting spread out too thin and parents become relegated to be shuttle service to the different activities, and we're losing focus on the center," he said. "The home should be the center."
Hitt suggested trying to maintain a balance between home life and activities outside the home.
Keeping resolutions is about actively doing something, or in the case of smoking, not doing something, and not being too hard on oneself for slipping a little, he said.
"Perfectionism is one of the real barriers to success with resolutions. We have to have the flexibility to say 'Well I lost five pounds in a month three of the five months (I was supposed to lose weight) and I think that's really good,'" Hitt said.