Updated: Oct 20, 2022
New Year’s resolutions are not a contemporary idea. In fact, people have been setting these goals for thousands of years. Let’s take a walk through history to see just how long ago we started this common tradition.
Traveling back in time about 4,000 years, we arrive in Ancient Babylon, where New Year’s Resolutions are said to have originated. Each new year, the Babylonians celebrated the 12 day religious festival of Akitu. At this festival, they worshipped and made promises to many of their sacred gods. These promises included goals to pay off debts and return borrowed or stolen objects. This was the very first form of New Year’s resolutions.
Later, looking to Ancient Rome, we see the Romans making sacrifices to Janus, the two faced Roman god of doors, gates and transitions. Romans would make promises to Janus to do good in the new year in hopes that he would guide them through the transition.
In Christianity, a new year became a traditional occasion to think about one’s past mistakes and resolve to do better in the future.
Overall, throughout history we have seen people making goals for a future chapter in celebration of the coming New Year.
So, we fast forward to today. To the close of another year but a year like no other. As 2020 comes to an end most of us are starting to look back on the year that has passed. We, similar to the ancient Babylons, make promises that we believe will stick. In reality, about 80% of resolutions fail each year, and most don’t survive past mid-February.
I propose we change the resolution piece to something more manageable with expectations. People today often focus their resolutions on self improvement. January 1st rolls around and that is when people decide that this is going to be ‘the’ year. Eat healthy, work out, start that new project, and by Valentines Day each of these commitments have fallen through one way or another. In contrast, the idea of considering making shorter term goals may possibly be a lot more manageable than trying to tackle an entire year. You can try this: who knows, maybe following a different approach for the start of 2021 might even leave you more successful in making a positive change in your life.
Perhaps you can try a method like Melinda Gates. She choses a “word of the year”. This is a single word that identifies everything you hope to achieve and change in the coming year. In 2016 Melinda Gates chose the word “gentle” to remind herself to accept herself and others and “to fight the pull of perfectionism”. Then in 2017 she chose the word “spacious” to encourage herself to make space in her life for what matters and to not let unwanted things take up room in her life.
These are just two examples of how you can alter the traditional resolution to promote positive, more attainable change in your life.
But let me bring up another point I’ve been thinking about quite often lately. Why do we wait to make goals until the start of a new year? Life isn’t about waiting or about putting off goals until a certain point. It’s about adapting in the moment, not using a new year as an excuse to start a new chapter.
You own the book of your life and if you truly want to start a new chapter you just need to consciously decide to make that change.
So this year, when December 30th rolls around and seconds descend towards the impending midnight, think about approaching your resolutions in a new way. I think we’re all ready to close off 2020 and begin a new chapter. But who says you have to wait for life to turn the page. Make new goals for yourself anytime of year. Or better yet, make your resolution right now. Do it, right here, right now, in this very moment.