A Historic Perspective: Why Do We Wait Until New Year’s to Make Resolutions?

Joel Eisenberg

While some question why we do not make resolutions daily, history has answers.

New Year’s ResolutionsShutterstock


The question as posed in the title of this piece is general, as is this: Doesn’t it feel as though everyone makes — and breaks — New Year’s resolutions?

If your answer is yes, why the compulsion then to be part of that crowd?

A friend once asked me this question: “In a baseball game, would you rather be in the stands, or a player on the field?” He knew my answer would be the latter, and the question was his way of pushing me.

Needless to say, not everyone would have the same answer.

History’s Perspective

In an Inc. Magazine article by Jeff Haden, titled A Study of 800 Million Activities Predicts Most New Year’s Resolutions Will Be Abandoned on January 19: How to Create New Habits That Actually Stick, the author explains that most resolutions are neither typically defined strongly enough to follow, nor do they piggyback on existing life habits. For example, an individual resolves to “get in shape.” Haden suggests the resolution is weak, and difficult to define. Get in shape in what way? By increasing cardio fitness? Bulking up? Both? Neither?

Haden implies most resolutions are the same way, which is why they are so frequently broken.

According to a story in History.com, entitled “The History of New Year’s Resolutions,” the concept of New Year’s resolutions originated with the ancient Babylonians over 4000 years ago. From the piece: According to recent research, while as many as 45 percent of Americans say they usually make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent are successful in achieving their goals.

Hearkening back to our opening, clearly not nearly everyone makes New Year’s resolutions, though as the concept is so ingrained in global culture it certainly seems the majority break them.

Further, to the question as posed in the title — Why do we wait until the New Year to make potentially life-changing resolutions — it appears as though the answer is culturally-based. As in, also according to History.com, cultures around the globe seem to have adapted a variant of this old and very human trait and have turned it into a habit.

But why?

This is a question that cannot be answered with any accuracy, a truth that mimics yet another issue behind the general ineffectiveness of New Year’s resolutions: To the estimated 92% of us, according to the History.com article, who regularly give up on those resolutions, why is the original Babylonian characteristic so easily then, in practice, all too frequently an exercise in defeat as opposed to success?

Again, we cannot answer. In that event, here is yet another question to perhaps place this entire conundrum into perspective: What if we simply do as we were taught in school, and work towards setting and attaining regular short and long-term goals?

After all, though many of us give up on those too — according to Inc. estimates only 70% of the 20% of U.S. citizens who set either long or short-term goals give up on them, leaving a 30% success rate from that sampling — the playing field levels slightly in this favor.


Personally, as mentioned I too make New Year’s resolutions, though I am also an inveterate year-round goal-setter. In my experience, success is more frequent with my year-round habit, which I now identify as simply taking more seriously than the ancient tradition.

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Please comment and let me know.

Thank you, as ever, for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA

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