New Year’s resolutions have a long history. The month of January was named for the two-faced Roman god, Janus, who looks forward for new beginnings as well as backwards for reflection and resolution.
New Year’s History
In fact, the practice of making New Year’s resolutions goes back to ancient times. In 2000 B.C., the Babylonians celebrated the New Year for 11 days (starting with the vernal equinox). One popular resolution 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 January, hence the tribute to two-faced Janus who has not only the god of new beginnings but also the guardian of gates and doors. Janus 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 New Year’s Resolutions
Here are a few tips if you’re taking on a New Year’s resolution.
- Make time to pause and reflect. 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.
- 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 3 weeks” is more concrete.
- If quitting smoking is one of your resolutions, take a sip of 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. Have a list of diversions ready!
- Losing weight can also be helped by a cup of herbal tea every afternoon to get you through a midday slump—or, the late-night munchies.
- Any 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.