New Year’s resolutions have a long history. Why do we have New Year’s resolutions? And how do we keep make (and keep) them?!
The New Year’s resolution tradition actually goes back to ancient times. The new year is a natural time to reflect and resolve to change or improve how we live our lives.
Why Do We Have New Year’s Resolutions?
In 2000 B.C., the Babylonians celebrated the New Year for 11 days (starting with the vernal equinox). One common resolutions was the returning of borrowed farm equipment (which makes sense for an agriculturally based society).
The Babylonian New Year was adopted by the Romans as was the tradition of resolutions.
The timing, however, eventually shifted with the Julian calendar to the month of January which was named for the two-faced Roman god, Janus, who looks forward for new beginnings as well as backwards for reflection and resolution.
Janus was also the guardian of gates and doors. He presided over the temple of peace, where the doors were opened only during wartime. It was a place of safety, where new beginnings and new resolutions could be forged.
If you think about the land and the seasons, the timing of early January makes sense for most of North America. The active harvest season has passed. The holiday frenzy is ending.
As our founder, Robert B. Thomas, said, this is a time “of leisure to farmers … settle accounts with your neighbors … now having been industrious in the summer, you will have the felicity of retiring from the turbulence of the storm to the bosom of your family.”
How to Make (and Keep) New Year’s Resolutions
Here are tips if you’re taking on a New Year’s resolution.
- Make time to pause and reflect. Decide on a morning to make a cup of tea and sit down with a pad of paper. Or, perhaps you think best while doing a mindless household chore.
- Keep it simple. Settle on one or two things that you really can accomplish. Not a big list. For example, our founder Robert B. Thomas resolved to “begin the new year square with every man.” This meant he settled his debts. Of course, this saying could have a meaning beyond finances to relationships!
- Define a goal that is measurable, doable, and specific. “I want to lose weight” is too vague. “I will write out a week’s meal plan and follow it for 10 days” is more concrete. Or, “I will spend 5 minutes praying every evening before bedtime for 3 weeks.” Or, “I will not eat desserts or sugary treats for three weeks.” Once you reach your short-term goal, you can reassess or moderate.
- Create a short list of diversions that could come up. For example, if quitting smoking is one of your resolutions, sip on lemon juice whenever temptation strikes or nibble on sunflower seeds. Keep a pencil in your hand to keep it occupied, or play with a yo-yo.
- If losing weight is a goal, plan on making a cup of herbal tea (or a pitcher!) every afternoon to get you through a midday slump. Many people get tired and have less control late in the day; if you get late-night munchies, be sure to buy something healthy to chew on, such as a handful of almonds.
This year, I resolve to be on time to meetings. To ensure this will happen, I plan to take a moment every day to set an alarm on my phone with a five-minute reminder before any meetings.
Here’s another idea. If you’re not fond of resolutions, how about taking a piece of paper and listing a few regrets about the past year? To help focus on the future, write down your regrets on a scrap of paper and toss it into the fire! Janus, the two-faced symbol of the new year, would approve!
Whether we resolve to return borrowed farm equipment (as did the Babylonians) or drop a few pounds, we’re tapping into an ancient and powerful longing for a fresh start! We just have different ways of reflecting and resolving to do our best in life.