A New Year’s resolution is a tradition in which we look back over the last year, reflect on what has happened and use it an opportunity to spark a positive change in our lives in the coming year.
It is believed the first type of New Year’s resolutions date back over 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians. During a 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. This is also a time where they made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. If they kept their promises, it is said their pagan gods would bestow favour on them for the coming year. These promises are considered the forerunners of New Year’s resolutions as we know them today.
These promises can also be seen in ancient Rome after emperor Julius Caesar established January 1st as the beginning of the new year circa 46 B.C. named after Janus – the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches. It was believed that Janus looked backwards into the previous year as well as ahead into the future, so the Romans offered sacrifices and made their own promises for the coming year.
For early Christians, the beginning of the new year was an opportunity to think about past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future. Despite these religious roots, these days New Year’s resolutions are more personal and tend to focus on self-improvement.
Despite the eagerness to wipe the slate clean and start fresh after December 31st, many of us seem to struggle to make good on our plans. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 46% of people who made New Year’s resolutions were successful.
Despite 4,000 years of practice, it seems many of us are doomed from the start due to lofty goals and unattainable goals; essentially, we are already setting ourselves up for failure before we’ve even started. Today’s resolutions are also often health focused due to the overindulgence that comes hand in hand with the festive period. The best way to stick to your resolution is by staying positive, being realistic, allowing room for error, making sure the goal is something you genuinely want (and not something you’ve been pressured into) and by asking for support and accountability from loved ones.