A History Lesson in Resolutions & How to Make Them Stick

With 2016 officially over, many of us will be taking some time to reflect. You might ask yourself, did you get where you wanted to go? Did you accomplish the things you set out to do? Or, was this year just all that you had hoped it would be?

When the year began, you probably had a few New Year’s resolutions in mind. Whether it was getting your finances in order, eating better, exercising more, or trying to be a kinder person, you were not alone. Nearly 50 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions every single year. The scary part? Only 8 percent report that they successfully achieved their goals. So why do we keep setting these resolutions? You might say it’s in our DNA.

How It All Started

Nearly 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians were the first to try their hand at setting New Year’s resolutions and celebrating the new year. However, their New Year’s festivities took place in March, not January, when new crops were planted. During a 12-day festival called Akitu, the Babylonians would promise to pay back their debts to the gods. If they could keep their word, the gods would grant them good fortune for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor.

Centuries later, Julius Caesar and the ancient Romans followed a similar tradition. In 46 B.C., Caesar changed the calendar and made January 1 the start of the new year. Named after Janus, a two-faced god whose spirit lived in doorways and arches, this month was incredibly significant for the Romans. Since Janus represented a reflection of the past and contemplation of the future, they would offer sacrifices and promises of good behavior for the coming year.

Our Modern Resolutions

Fast-forward thousands of years, and instead of making promises to gods, most of us make resolutions to ourselves. But why does it seem like we’re only able to stick to our New Years’ resolutions for the first two or three weeks of the new year?

Most of the time, the goals we set are too lofty and require major adjustments to our lifestyle, rather than small, incremental changes. Many people want to be entirely different than they were before and expect that this change can happen overnight. These unrealistic expectations inevitably backfire as we start to fail, with failure making us feel discouraged and putting us on a fast-track to giving up altogether.

So, if you’re serious about committing to change in 2017, try a new approach. Instead of setting a New Year’s resolution, commit to a New Year’s reset. A resolution represents a hard-line decision to do or not do something by a certain date, while a reset is an opportunity to set your habits differently every single day.

It’s a great mental trick. Research even shows that the “reset mentality” can help you accomplish more realistic goals and allows for more flexibility as you figure out what is or is not working for you.

Whatever it is that you decide to commit to changing or improving for 2017, go easy on yourself. Some days will be harder than others, and that’s okay. Focus on small realistic goals and celebrate even the tiniest achievements. Lastly, don’t take yourself too seriously. After all, it is a new year.