Like making New Year’s Resolutions? You are not alone! It is estimated that over 50% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions each year, yet only about 10% honor those commitments. I’ve been making New Year’s Resolutions for decades now and I can look back on some of the ones I have kept with pride, but the ones that fell by the wayside (nearly before the ink dried) are far more numerous. Can you relate? I mean, if we had to get our resolutions out from the previous year and answer to them now, perhaps receive a review of sorts, how would you fare? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
How Did New Year’s Resolutions Even Get Started?
New Year’s resolutions got their start some 4000 years ago when ancient peoples made promises to their gods in hopes of gaining their favor for the upcoming year. It’s a whole lot different these days.
Today, we bargain with ourselves. We make these promises in hopes of self-betterment and good fortune by way of our own making. We hope perhaps, for a little bit of good luck to come our way.
While most of the holiday is now relatively non-religious, there are a few lingering religious traditions that have been rewritten into the fabric of our this holiday. Some churches still hold to the religious roots of the holiday by way of watch night services, where Christians read scriptures, pray, and look for guidance for the new year (an alternative to the secular partying that now dominates the holiday.)
Whether you begin your new year with a party hat and confetti or with a Bible and singing, we all share one thing--we are notorious for breaking our New Year's Resolutions. Why is this? It’s almost as if all that self-reflection is a waste of time. So, why do we make these resolutions at all? The truth is, if we make the right New Year’s resolutions—we might just want to keep them.
Where Did New Year’s Resolutions Come From?
New Year’s resolutions got their start with the ancient Babylonians, who made deals with their gods, promised to do better, behave better, return all that borrowed stuff from their neighbors. The planting season was coming up and they really wanted the god’s favor for a good season of growth and harvest.
Some features of the original practices that we now know as New Year’s continue:
- Some form of resolution-making
- A look back at the previous year
- Hopes for a better upcoming year
- Celebratory behavior
- Some form of self-examination and forward-thinking
- Superstitious perceptions, activities, or traditions
So, today it’s much more simple. Make a resolution. Keep it. No fire and brimstone to rain down on your crops. No bargaining for a good future. Simply making wise choices about your life (yes, they can be prayerful) and then setting out to do better.
So why do we fall flat on our hopeful faces before the last-day card for January rolls over into February?
Turns out, we humans have a hard time making ourselves change without the fear of the god’s breathing down our necks—though we do try! What we need is accountability, motivation, and the internal fortitude to work to change our own habits. When those stars align, we make resolution magic happen.
New Year’s Resolutions—Making them Stick
First, you need a simple program to tackle those resolutions: accountability, motivation, and work.
- Accountability—Write it down. Tell someone. Make an out loud commitment to your resolution(s). Having to answer to yourself and others provides accountability and keeps you on track.
- Motivation—Incentivize. Make small milestones and when you meet them, reward yourself with Starbucks or a new book or something you want.
- Work—There’s no silver bullet here; do the work.
Plan in place, white board or journal ready, jaw set—let’s get some resolutions in place you’ll be able to stick to!
Be Honest with Yourself about Your Limitations
You know you. Are you an all in kind of person or an early quitter? A step-by-stepper? Knowing your own limitations will help you to design a program of resolutions that work for you. Set yourself up for success, not failure!
Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Reasonable and Manageable
Reasonable. You know deciding to quit sugar, soft drinks, and white bread all at the same time might be a bit much. Set smaller, more realistic goals and keep focused on one “big” resolution with a few other supportive ones. Perhaps quitting all of that by the end of the year would be more reasonable. You have 12 months to set smaller, more attainable goals to work toward your larger end goal.
Creating a New Habit
New Year’s resolutions are all about eliciting personal change and trying to push ourselves to be better, do better, live better. Breaking the bonds of bad habits is difficult. (But it is not impossible.) In fact, it only takes 3 weeks to set a new habit and train yourself to stick to it. New behaviors can be performed with a bit of motivation, but for them to “stick” we must create new habits. Try to think of your resolutions as mini training courses to prepare you for the life you envision for yourself.
A Few Tips for Making that New Habit Stick
- Remove temptations and things that distract you from your goal
- Do something daily toward your goal—and commit to 30 days! It takes about this long to make a new habit.
- Take setbacks in stride. They may happen but it is no reason to completely abandon your goals.
- Make sure if you are giving something up that you find healthy ways to fulfil the same need. For example, if you are giving up smoking but suddenly find you miss the “breaks” to relax, then replace your smoke breaks with a bit of music, meditation, or short walks outside.
A bit about what makes for a good resolution. All of these tips have been very conceptual, motivational, but not very directional. Let’s take a look at some very good resolutions to make. (In case you need a springboard for ideas.)
HEALTH & WELLNESS
- Take a short walk every day.
- Drink more water.
- Cut back or quit smoking (or other nasty habit).
- Learn a new sport or exercise.
- Get out to visit with family more often. (How often? Be specific in your goal.)
- Make a new friend. (Or two or three!)
- Join a social group or gathering like mic night, book club, or a dancing group.
- Donate to charitable organizations.
- Give of your time to volunteer in your community.
- Find ways to do random acts of kindness each day / week / month.
CLEANING & ORGANIZING
- Clean out the garage / attic / storage building.
- Have a yard sale or donate some items to clear up space.
- Organize your pictures into digital files.
- Set an easy cleaning schedule and rotation.
- Finally ditch all those no-match socks or do a fun craft project with them.
TRAVELLING & NEW EXPERIENCES
- Learn a new craft or how to play an instrument.
- Pick a place you’ve never been and plan your trip there.
- Enjoy a day trip.
RELAXING & ENJOYING LIFE A BIT MORE
- Get outdoors more—go hiking!
- Set a reading goal for the year.
- Make some time for your hobby or to learn a new one.
- Set a no-tech time for each day.
- Start having a weekly spa time for yourself.
- Start investing a little it each month.
- Start a savings account.
- Begin paying off some debt or credit cards.
New Year’s resolutions are workable steps you can make to ensure a better year for yourself. You get to choose these paths to a better you, redefine the upcoming year under your own terms, and go for it. They are all about hope. Keep them doable and achievable. You can always up the ante later in the year if you are ready to expand on your New Year’s resolutions and keep your new-found forward momentum. Remember—the only thing holding you back, is YOU.