The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is common to many cultures, yet it is well documented that most New Year’s resolutions never come to fruition. Statistics indicate that 45% of Americans usually resolve to change or improve themselves in the new year, but that only 8% are successful at achieving those resolutions. We’ve found some resolution solutions to share. But first we’ll take a peek at some interesting religious roots of this tradition.
The ancient Babylonians held the first recorded celebrations of the new year, some 4,000 years ago, and were first to make New Year’s resolutions. Their new year began in mid-March, when crops were planted, with Akitu – a 12-day religious festival during which a new king was also crowned. Forerunners of resolutions, promises were made to the gods to repay debts and return borrowed items. The Babylonians believed that if they kept their promises, their gods would bestow favor on them in the coming year.
Similar practices began in Rome after Julius Caesar revised the calendar and designated January 1 as the start of the new year circa 46 BC. Janus, the two-faced god, was at the core of Roman tradition. It was believed that he looked backward into the previous year and ahead into the future. Thus, the Romans offered sacrifices to Janus along with promises of good behavior for the coming year.
Early Christians chose the first day of the new year for reviewing past mistakes and resolving to do better going forward. In the mid-1700s, English clergyman John Wesley made this a more formal practice with the initiation of the “Covenant Renewal Service” as an alternative to more rowdy New Year’s celebrations. These “watch night” services focused on Scripture readings, singing of hymns, prayer, and making resolutions for the coming year.
Although New Year’s resolutions are mostly a secular practice now, they still typically focus on self-improvement. Top resolutions focus on education, health, finances and relationships. So why is it so hard to make these worthwhile objectives happen? The reasons are many but statistics show that those who are very explicit in their resolutions are more likely to succeed.
Giving serious thought to your resolutions and being realistic are key. The reason for your resolution must be meaningful to you personally or it’s a lost cause from the start. Does it inspire you or drag you down? If your calendar is already full of important commitments, there must be justification for adding one more. Your expectations must be realistic, such as the time you’ll need to invest and the time table for achieving the resolution. The following six specific tips may help sway the odds of resolution success in your favor:
- Prioritize and choose only one or two specific goals; avoid a “wishful thinking” list.
- Make your goals SMART: Specific, measurable, action-related, realistic and timeline-tied.
- Break your goals down into the steps needed to accomplish it, and develop an action plan.
- Set aside and schedule time to work on specific steps.
- Keep the reasons for choosing your resolutions up front, including contemplation of the consequences of not achieving them.
- Share your resolutions with someone, preferably more than one person, who will help you be accountable to your commitment. In turn, you can help them be accountable to their resolution.
In short, make sure your resolution is consistent with your vision of yourself and make it specific. Down the road you can congratulate yourself for what you’ve achieved. Remember, like much of life, resolutions may be dynamic – if your goals change it’s OK to modify your plan accordingly. And you don’t have to wait another year to be a better you. Each day is an opportunity for a new beginning. Happy New Year!