In the past, I’ve set New Year’s resolutions and worked hard to make them happen. Sometimes I was successful, but many times I wasn’t. In fact, I failed so many times that this year I found myself in a quandary – should I even bother making a New Year’s resolution if I was just going to give up and fail anyway?
I wanted to blow it off and relax, but there was a small part of me who felt that not trying to improve at all would be an even greater letdown than trying and failing. I got so frustrated, I started wondering who had put me in this position. Who was it that started the stupid tradition of making New Year’s resolutions in the first place?
“The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year, which began in mid-March, that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. March was a logical time period for the New Year because spring begins and crops are planted. But the Babylonians had a greater motivation to stick to their promises than what we have today, because for the ancient people of Mesopotamia, keeping their promise would mean that their gods would bestow their grace on them throughout the course of the following twelve months, and breaking them would put them out of favour.” (Holloway, 2014)
Over 4000 years ago the Babylonians were celebrating the New Year. They had a 12-day religious celebration called Akitu, where they crowned a new king or renewed their allegiance to an existing king, as well as promising to repay their debts and returning borrowed objects. But they weren’t the only ones to celebrate the New Year.
“Centuries later, the ancient Romans had similar traditions to ring in their new year, which also originally began in March. In the early days of Rome, the city magistrates' terms were defined by this New Year's date. On March 1, the old magistrates would affirm before the Roman Senate that they had performed their duties in accordance with the laws. Then, the New Year's magistrates would be sworn into office.
“After Rome became an empire in 27 B.C., New Year's Day became a time for city leaders and soldiers to swear an oath of loyalty to the Emperor. This was not always mere political theater: In A.D. 69, after Emperor Nero died, civil war broke out over Rome's next leader. The Roman legions in Germany refused to swear allegiance to the next candidate for Emperor, Servius Sulpicius Galba, said Richard Alston, a professor of Roman history at Royal Holloway University of London. Galba's bodyguards in Rome soon turned against him as well, and killed him in the Forum, Rome's civic plaza.
“Like Babylon, Rome originally celebrated the New Year in March, Alston told Live Science, but at some point around 300 B.C., the ceremony shifted to Jan. 1. Rome was a military society, he said, and as the empire expanded, the generals had to travel longer distances. Prime battle season was in the spring, which probably made a March 1 swear-in date too late.
"’They wanted to have the generals in place for the campaigning season,’ Alston said.
“As Romans gradually became less warlike, the switch from celebrating the New Year during a month (March) associated with Mars, the god of war to one (January), associated with Janus, a god of home and hearth, seemed appropriate, he added. The first half of New Year's Day in Rome would have been taken up by public ceremonies, oath-taking and temple sacrifices, he said, while the second half of the day was for social activities. Citizens would bring each other gifts of honey, pears and other sweets as presents for a ‘sweet new year,’ Alston said.” (Pappas, 2017)
“The custom of setting “New Year’s resolutions” began during this period in Rome two millennia ago, as they made such resolutions with a moral flavor: mostly to be good to others. But when the Roman Empire took Christianity as its official state religion in the 4th century, these moral intentions were replaced by prayers and fasting. For example, Christians chose to observe the Feast of the Circumcision on January 1 in place of the revelry otherwise indulged in by those who did not share the faith. This replacement had varying degrees of success over the centuries, and Christians hesitated to observe some of the New Year practices associated with honoring the pagan god Janus.” (Petro, 2018)
While there is no evidence of a direct connection between the Roman celebrations of the New Year and more recent times, the practice of making New Year’s resolutions continues.
“In 1740, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, invented a new type of church service. These services, called Covenant Renewal Services or watch night services, were held during the Christmas and New Year's season as an alternative to holiday partying. Today, these services are often held on New Year's Eve, according to the United Methodist Church. Worshippers sing, pray, reflect on the year and renew their covenant with God.” (Pappas, 2017)
“Even as recently as the 17th century, Puritans in Colonial America avoided the indulgences associated with New Year’s celebrations and other holidays. In the 18th century, Puritans avoided even naming Janus. Instead, they called January ‘First Month.’
“Instead, the Puritans urged their children to skip the revelry and spend their time reflecting on the year past and contemplating the year to come. In this way, they again adopted the old custom of making resolutions. These were enumerated as commitments to better employ their talents, treat their neighbors with charity, and avoid their habitual sins.” (Petro, 2018)
“There are other religious parallels to this tradition. During Judaism's New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one's wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. The concept, regardless of creed, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually.” (Holloway, 2014)
For many people today, New Year’s has become a secular holiday. They no longer use the day to make promises to their god or their emperor. Instead, they set goals to improve themselves or their circumstances in some way.
Young people are much more likely to make New Year’s Resolutions than older people. Like me, many older people have tried and failed repeatedly, until it finally seems pointless to try again. I had almost convinced myself it was impossible for me to lose weight. I was depressed and worried that my health would deteriorate because of my weight, and I would die young from a heart attack or diabetics. But then, as I studied the history of New Year’s resolutions, I found a couple of sources that helped me look at the situation from a new perspective.
As you know, I am writing a novel. As part of learning to write, I follow several writing blogs. K. M. Wieland’s blog, Helping Writers Become Authors (https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com) is one of those. On January 1st she published the blog post "4 Life-Changing New Year’s Lessons for Writers". The post recommended that instead of setting vague goals like, “I’ll lose weight”, we study what happened last year.
“The major problem with most New Year’s goals is that they have no foundation. We’d all like to be smarter, healthier, prettier, kinder, and richer this year. But without some kind of meaningful foundation of life experience and understanding, these are just birthday wishes—gone in the puff of a pink candle.
“Focusing on the lessons you learned in the last year will show you the obvious next step for the new year.” (Weiland, 2018)
She suggests that we ask ourselves the following questions prior to setting our goals for the new year.
“Instead of looking back and judging the goals you might or might not have accomplished, consider what gifts you’ve picked up along the way during your adventures this year.
How are you different this January 1st from who you were last January 1st?
How is your life different?
What have you lost?
What have you gained?
What would you never want to trade from this past year’s experiences—whether it’s something beautiful or painful, or both?
What mindsets have served you particularly well this year?
What mindsets have failed you?
What answers do you feel you have found?
What questions are you still left with?
“Plans for the future are great, but I’d venture that the answers you’ll glean from these questions will serve you far more valuably in shaping a fruitful new year.” (Weiland, 2018)
Changing my focus from my failures to what I learned from the experiences, helped me change my perspective on the situation and the possibilities for the future. Then I got the newly released book Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals by Michael Hyatt. He talks about how we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to accomplishing our goals.
“One of the biggest reasons we don’t succeed with our goals is we doubt we can. We believe they’re out of reach. Polls show the percent of people in their twenties who achieve their New Years resolutions is far greater than those over fifty. In fact, while eight in ten millennials set resolutions, almost seven in ten adults over sixty-five say setting resolutions is ‘a waste of time,’ according to a Harris Poll. Why? It’s sad, but the greater the number of setbacks we’ve experienced in life, the less likely we are to believe we can prevail. Doubt is a goal toxin.” (Hyatt, 2018)
He also talks about how these repeated setbacks can cause us to have limiting beliefs which can keep us from overcoming the challenges we face as we try to make changes.
“Because our expectations shape what we believe is possible, they shape our perceptions and actions. That means they also shape the outcomes. And that means they shape our reality.” (Hyatt, 2018)
“Our beliefs about what’s possible have a direct impact on the reality we experience. But what if you could change your sense of what’s possible?” (Hyatt, 2018)
“The first key difference between an unmet goal and personal success is the belief that it can be achieved.” (Hyatt, 2018)
“A limiting belief is a misunderstanding of the present that shortchanges our future.” (Hyatt, 2018)
“So ask yourself: What’s not in your world right now that could be, must be there? What’s lacking that only you can remedy in your relationships, your health, your career, or your spiritual life? As we begin to think about designing our best year ever, we need to recognize that most of the barriers we face are imaginary. There are a million thoughts running through our heads, but we alone get to choose what we’re going to believe. And the best way to overcome limiting beliefs is to replace them with liberating truths. It’s possible to upgrade our beliefs.” (Hyatt, 2018)
When I started writing this blog post I was depressed about 2018. I knew I needed to make changes in my life, but I doubted my ability to make it happen. After doing this research my entire attitude has changed, and I have a smile on my face. Now I’m looking forward to 2018. Yes, achieving some of my goals will be difficult, because I’ve made the same mistakes for a long time, and it will take a lot of effort to change those habits, but now I believe it’s possible.
I can’t tell you whether it’s a good idea for you to make a New Year’s resolution or not – only you can make that decision. But please, don’t give up on yourself. Don’t let things that have happened in the past limit what you believe is possible in 2018 – anything is possible.
I wish you good luck as you start this new year. May you find the energy and wisdom to accomplish whatever goals you set for yourself, and may your life be full of blessings.
Happy New Year!!!
Holloway, A. (2014, January 1). Ancient History of New Year's Resolutions. Retrieved from Ancient Origins: Reconstructing the Origins of Humanities Past: http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-news-general/ancient-history-new-year-s-resolutions-001185
Hyatt, M. (2018). Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals. Baker Books.
Pappas, S. (2017, December 31). Why We Make New Year's Resolutions. Retrieved from Live Science: https://www.livescience.com/42255-history-of-new-years-resolutions.html
Petro, B. (2018, January 1). History of New Year's Resolutions: Where did they begin? Retrieved from Bill Petro: http://billpetro.com/history-of-new-years-resolutions
Weiland, K. M. (2018, January 1). 4 Life-Changing New Year's Lessons for Writers. Retrieved from Helping Writers Become Authors: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/new-year-goals-for-writers/