Where did New Year’s Resolutions Come From?
Everyone is well aware of the common practice of making new year resolutions at the start of every new year. But how much time do we put into thinking about how to keep a new year’s resolution? And where did this practice even come from?
The history of new year’s resolutions can be traced back over 4000 years ago. It is linked to a practice by the ancient Babylonians as well as to the ancient Romans around the time of Julius Caesar.
It could be said that their ancient practices of making promises to the Gods are where the modern tradition of new year’s resolutions began. Over the years, we’ve come to accept this annual habit of making new year’s resolutions. They come in the form of accepting new challenges, trying something new, changing something, ending something…you name it, it’s a go.
But why do we still do it?
Why Do We Still Make New Year’s Resolutions?
Making a new year’s resolution is the practice of deciding on something you want to do or achieve in the coming year. According to statista.com, it seems the most common new year’s resolutions are exercising more, losing weight, saving money and spending more time with family. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve made one of these your new year’s resolution before.
Resolutions for a new year can have some positive impact on our lives. They can instill a sense of motivation, inspiration and create a tangible goal to work towards. They can give us something to focus on, a sense of purpose and intent in a new year once all the hoopla of Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over.
Boring old January. It’s cold and wet (well, in the UK it is anyway) and many people feel that their finances are stretched to their limits after the spending frenzy over the holidays.
This means less socialising and less going out and splurging for a while. It’s easy to get sucked into feeling down and a little deflated at this time of year.
What could fix that problem?
Why, a new year’s resolution, of course!
Create something to focus on – an objective to eventually tick off – to feel ambitious and full of gusto!
Having a resolution for the new year seems like a great idea, right?
The Feeling That Making a New Year’s Resolution Can Bring
People make resolutions for the new year with this massive intent (and expectation!) that it will be a defining moment for them. THIS is the year that things will be different. THIS is the year that I will…(enter in your new year resolution here with full expectation that it will be achieved!).
And what a feeling it is. A year has just finished. We can wipe our hands of things that might have come our way that really weren’t great.
Maybe it was a downright sh*t year and we are thrilled to see the backend of it! (Ahem, 2020 and 2021…) That’s definitely something worth celebrating.
And why not celebrate it with making a resolution. Hold yourself accountable to something in this new, fresh and promising year! A resolution that will help you get your year off to the best start.
So far, this all sounds good, right?
Yes. I agree.
The Hype of New Year’s Resolutions
I’m a huge fan of challenging myself and trying new things. I also love it when people hold themselves accountable and make bold moves, moving past any fear. The problem that I often see with making new year’s resolutions is the hype that it will change someone’s life.
As I said, the year starts off with this burst of positivity, motivation and strength.
‘I can do this! I am going to do this!’
However, most people won’t have put much thought into the actual execution of it. Many just choose a resolution because it’s something they want, plain and simple. It’s no wonder that only around 25% of Britains actually achieved their new year’s resolution in 2019 and 26% in 2020, according to a report about new year’s resolutions in Britain.
The New Year’s Resolution Cycle
January has started and you’ve made your resolution. You feel great! You feel inspired and you feel strong!
You’re going to grab life by the horns and ride it to the top of the mountain! (Or whatever else you want to do!)
You do ‘the thing’ and you work towards reaching your goal. That beginning of a challenge is usually the best part – well, other than completing it, of course. But it’s at the start when you feel something has your full attention, your full support and you’re mentally and spiritually fired up!
Then what happens?
February comes along and you start to feel that fire getting a bit fainter. Yes, you’re still ‘interested’ in achieving your resolution but if you’re completely honest, you don’t feel the same motivation you did when you made the new year resolution. And just so you don’t feel bad, around 80% of people who make a resolution give up on it by mid-February, according to one study. What’s even more shocking is that according to the same study, the most common day for people to drop their new year’s resolution is January 19th. That’s less than 3 weeks into the year!
And by now, you probably know where this is going.
The 20% of you that are left, come March and April, the motivation and inspiration dwindles even more. By now, it’s really difficult to keep that fire lit and to keep going. And as the year goes on, there are more and more challenges and mindset issues that get in the way.
The fact that 26% of Brits held on to their new year’s resolutions in 2020 is actually higher than the statistical average!
Why You Don’t Achieve Your New Year’s Resolution
For the majority of people, making new year’s resolutions is a sure-fire way to feel like you have failed later in the year. And this happens for different reasons.
- Losing interest because the initial excitement has waned off
- Making our resolution/challenge unrealistic and too hard to achieve
- Not feeling supported and are unable to do it on our own
- Getting too busy and bogged down with life’s usual overwhelm (so we end up not having the time to dedicate to our resolution in the end)
- We never really believed we could achieve it in the first place
- Simply didn’t make the time to do it
So, while I love goals and having something to work towards, I don’t like the idea of hyping it up and making people feel like the should be setting themselves a resolution every year.
If an average of 80% of people don’t actually achieve their goals, then that’s not a good statistic for mental satisfaction and confidence, is it? That means 80% of us could end up feeling like we’ve let ourselves down and we have failed.
Is There an Alternative To New Year’s Resolutions?
It’s all fine and dandy when you have something that sparks your motivation and your sense of determination and spirit. But let me ask you something…
Why do we only feel the need to set ourselves a resolution at the start of a new year?
Why do we only allow ourselves to get motivated and dedicated to achieving something in January?
What is it about this month that means that this is the ‘magical time’ for the new resolution?
Yes, it’s a new year so the digits change but this is simple math.
This isn’t universal alignment.
I’ve got a crazy idea…
Why Don’t We Make New Resolutions Whenever We Want?
What if you could start the year without the pressure of having to decide on something you’re going to focus on?
If you had an intention and you didn’t want to work on it for an entire year, that would be perfectly fine.
What if you wanted your challenge to start in May because that’s when it’s more likely for you to focus on ‘that thing’?
Wouldn’t it be nice to decide for yourself WHEN and for HOW LONG you will work on your resolution for? If you haven’t got an entire year riding on this one resolution, the pressure won’t feel as great.
If you haven’t hyped yourself up about it so much, if you happen not to achieve it, it won’t carry such a heavy burden with it.
You wouldn’t have to think of 2022 as the year you didn’t run the marathon. Or 2022 as the year you didn’t make the career change you so desperately wanted.
If we take the pressure of new year’s resolutions away, we can set ourselves smaller goals all the time, whenever we want. We don’t have to base it on the calendar.
For instance, I will set the intention in February to pick-up my yoga practice again which has slipped through the cracks lately. If I’m not doing yoga 5 times a week come May, that’s fine. I didn’t hold myself accountable to an entire year of something just so I could say I did it. I made the resolution to pick up my yoga in February and hopefully at the end of February I will have done just that.
Does Not Having Resolutions Counteract Intent?
What I’m not suggesting is that people don’t have resolutions or create goals for themselves for fear of not achieving them.
Quite the opposite actually.
I think we should all set ourselves goals and targets that we want to achieve but we should do them in a way that makes them more suitable to our individual lives.
For some, the pressure of having an entire year to build on something might be what keeps them motivated. For others, this could feel too long of a time and lead them to continually lose interest year after year.
So let’s make our own resolutions – at any damn time of the year – that works with what motivates us!
How To Keep a New Year’s Resolution
In order to set a resolution or a goal that actually stands a chance at being achieved, there are a few things to think about to help you reach the mountain top, so to speak.
1. Make your goal realistic
The reason why so many new year resolutions don’t make it past the first few months is that the goal wasn’t realistic for the person who set it. This might mean it wasn’t realistic for the timeframe you set yourself (we’ll discuss this in point 2) or there wasn’t enough planning put in place to make sure the outcome could be achieved. How long does your goal usually take for others to achieve? How difficult is it? Will you need extra support or training in order to achieve it? Do you have the time to dedicate to reaching your goal?
Take a moment to really think about what you’re asking yourself to do and whether or not you are setting yourself up for disappointment right from the start. Yes, make your resolution challenging – if it’s easy, it’s not interesting – but make sure it’s not too difficult that makes it highly unlikely you will succeed.
2. Be more specific about TIME
Give yourself a rough time frame to work on a resolution to keep it in focus. Will you spend a month doing it? A season? Half a year? This way there is a slight sense of urgency and it’s less likely it will fall by the wayside. It also gives you a way to monitor if you are sticking to your goal but tracking where you are and how much time you have to achieve your goal.
For example, if you say I want to work out more, what does ‘more’ mean? If you exercise one extra minute per day, that’s technically more. But is that what you wanted? Will that help you feel successful? Instead, choose something like I will work out at least twice a week this year/summer/month. Now you’ve got a specific goal to stick to and you’ll be able to easily tell if you’re sticking to it or if you need a little kick up the butt!
3. Choose something for YOU
Crucial to success with any resolution is that you’re doing it for YOURSELF. Sure it might feel selfless or thoughtful to do something for someone else but that’s not going to intrinsically motivate you. That could also lead to resentment when times get tough and you’re not enjoying the challenge. And certainly don’t do it because someone else has asked you to. Of course, your goal could positively impact someone else in addition to you but first and foremost, make it about you. After all, they can set their own resolution if they want to benefit from it.
For example, if your partner or spouse is worried about your health and wants you to stop smoking, that’s not enough to keep you motivated to stop. You need to want to stop smoking because YOU see the value in it. If it’s not important to you, I can almost guarantee you that you won’t succeed. Make it about YOU all the way. Decide you want to quit smoking because YOU want to feel healthier and YOU want to improve your lifestyle. (Sure, hubby will be just as pleased if you do but it’s not about him. It’s about YOU.)
4. Think About WHY You Want To Achieve This Goal
What is the ultimate reason why you want to set this intention? What will you get out of it? How will this add value or have a positive impact on your life? Really take the time to think about this to make sure that this is important to you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be life changing but there has to be a big enough benefit to you doing this if you want to make sure you’re set to succeed.
Without understanding what you’re doing it for, you won’t feel the full inspiration and motivation to keep you going to the finish line. And you want to make it to the end, don’t you? Then figure out what your WHY is.
An extension to this idea is to also think about how your life will be impacted if you don’t reach your goal. How will it affect your life if you don’t achieve it? This is not to focus on the negative but it can support you in a few ways. It helps to give you some extra motivation to stick to your resolution by knowing what the downside of not achieving it would mean to you. But, on the flip side, it also is a subtle reminder that if you don’t achieve it, the world will not. You can always start again and set a new goal because you don’t need to wait for January, right?
5. Get Support
One sure way to increase the likelihood of achieving your resolution is to have an accountability partner – someone who will be there to keep you motivated and keep you accountable. They may or may not have the same goal as you but they are there to support you.
Get a gym buddy that will help you keep to your planned workout schedule. Have a friend who will check in with you to ask for updates on your goal. Get your partner to put the kids to bed on a Thursday night so that you can attend that evening course you’ve been wanting to do for ages. Or if you can, hire a coach to help you do ‘that thing’.
Having a support system around you, however big or small, can make a huge difference to keeping you motivated and on track to achieve what you want to achieve.
What New Resolutions Will You Set This Year?
If you were in a panic because you hadn’t set a new year resolution yet and it’s already February, no need to panic anymore. Now you can set a resolution any damn time you want!
Simply set a resolution or an intention when you’re ready! There are 365 days in (most) years so there is plenty of time to choose a goal or to make a decision to focus on something.
Creating good habits of setting a resolution in the right way (and for the right reasons!) is so important. It’s what makes the difference between actually setting yourself up for success rather than following the rat-race, doing a new year resolution just because it’s what ‘people do’ and having a minimal chance of succeeding with it.
It’s your life and it’s your choice when it’s best to focus on something specific. If it’s January, great! If it’s not until April, just as great. Because, remember, you don’t have to finish it before the new year rings in. You can keep on doing it for as long as you have decided for yourself.
Ah, freedom with resolutions. Just another way to unload the overwhelm that some of our ‘annual habits’ might have been causing us without even being aware of it.
No need to wonder about how to keep a new year’s resolution. Now you can learn to make (and keep!) your goals at any time of the year.
What will your next resolution be?
Feature image photo by Polina Kovaleva from Pexels