10 Tips on Making (and Keeping) New Year's Resolutions

And Why We Make New Year's Resolutions

January 29, 2019

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New Year’s resolutions have a long history. Why do we have New Year’s resolutions? And how do we keep keep them? Here are 10 tips on making (and keeping) resolutions.

History of New Year’s Resolutions

Why do we have New Year’s resolutions? 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.

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.”  

10 Tips to Make (and Keep) New Year’s Resolutions

Here are tips if you’re taking on a New Year’s resolution.

  1. Make time to pause and reflect. Decide on a morning to make a cup of coffee and sit down with a pad of paper. Or, perhaps you think best while doing a mindless household chore. 
  2. 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. Other examples of resolutions include: music practice, internet-less dinners, exercise, prayer, and meditation.
  3. Define a goal that is measurable, doable, and specific. “I want to lose weight” is too vague. “I will exercise 30 minutes 2x per week” is specific. Then “pencil in” which days you will exercise so it becomes a habit such as “early Tuesday, early Thursday, Saturday.” If one day doesn’t work out, write in a new day.
  4. For some folks, it’s better to be more flexible. For example, instead of starting at “20 minutes 2x per week,” say “exercise a total of one hour over one week.” Or, instead of saying “over one week,” just use a moving seven-day window so this goal is accomplished in the last seven days.
  5. Start small.  Then add to your goal. For the exercise example, add 5 minutes per week, so you’re simply ratcheting up as time goes on instead of changing your habit.
  6. 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.
  7. Create some tools to help yourself reach your goals! For example, I resolve to be on time to meetings this week. To help me achieve this goal, I plan to take a moment  to set an alarm on my phone with a five-minute reminder before any meetings. 
  8. Keep track of your progress. Can you create or find a tool to track your habit?  For example, if you need to take a pill each day, get a 7-day pill box!  If you need to follow a skin regime each day, how about drawing a simply weekly calendar with check marks to keep progress. It’s always satisfying to check off a task completed!
  9. Create some accountability for yourself! For example, put a small amount of money in an envelope when you miss.  (Perhaps you give this money to charity.)
  10. If you can’t keep the habit going, take a breather.  After a break, try again. Think about what didn’t work last time. It’s perfectly normal for an approach to fail the first time but don’t give up. Reflect. Try a different approach that works better for you.

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.

Read more about New Year’s Day traditions.

About This Blog

Your Old Farmer’s Almanac editors occasionally share our reflections, advice, and musings—and welcome your comments!