A successfully kept New Year’s Resolution is elusive. I have read that while approximately 41% of Americans usually make resolutions, only about 9% of Americans feel they successfully complete their goal. I’m certain that these statistics vary widely based upon the sample group and other factors. That aside, what is it that motivates us toward this ritual of annual goal setting and where did the idea come from?
The first recorded instances of what might be considered New Year’s Resolutions dates back to the Babylonians approximately 4,000 years ago. Their new year began in March with the planting of crops for the new season. They would pledge loyalty to the reigning king, and seek the favor of their gods.
Around 46 BC the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar established January as the beginning of the New Year. The name January was based on the two-faced god, Janus. Symbolically, Janus (or January), looked back in time reviewing the previous year and forward in time anticipating what the future year would hold. Romans would offer sacrifices to Janus and pledge good behavior that they might receive divine favor.
In Medieval times, knights would reaffirm their commitment to chivalry around the New Year. Jewish and Christian theologies have long used the coming of the New Year as a time to reflect on past spiritual performance and resolve to be better – more kind, patient, compassionate, loving, etc. – in the coming year.
In our day, people make resolutions for a variety of reasons. Health related goals are very popular – eating better, exercising more, quitting some vice. Financial goals are also high on the list of common goals – getting out of debt, saving more, getting a job promotion or a new job. Travel, family time, self-improvement, and education are also common areas where we set and strive for goals.
And herein lays, perhaps, the motivation for New Year’s Resolutions: the hope of something better. Whether it is relief from aches and pains because we have improved our physical health, or the enjoyment that will come from a vacation, hope is a powerful motivator. We all hope good things for our children – that they will do well academically, that they will have a positive peer group, that life for them will be a little easier than it has been for us. Hope for good things in our lives inspires us and drives forward, to do what we otherwise would not, achieving success in our individual ways.
And, while success can be elusive, researchers have identified some aspects of goal setting and achieving that have helped people be successful. Richard Wiseman of the University of Bristol studied 3,000 people in their goal setting and found that men were more likely to succeed when they made small, specific goals. For example, “lose one pound per week versus lose weight.” Women did better when they “made their goals public and got support from their friends.”
So, as we enter 2018 and set our hopes high for achieving our New Year’s Resolutions, let us remember to be specific in our goal setting and to include those around us for support and encouragement in the realization of what we set out to accomplish.
Best Wishes and Happy New Year :^)