Why we make ’em, break ’em and how to actually see one through (hint: superficial stuff doesn’t cut it)


New year’s resolutions are funny things, aren’t they? We’ve probably all made at least one in our lifetimes, but where did the act of making them come from? How popular are they today? How many people actually keep them? And, if we do it right, are they beneficial to us?


According to Sarah Pruitt (history.com), the ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions “some 4,000 years ago.”

“During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favour on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favour – a place no one wanted to be.”

A similar practice also occurred in ancient Rome under Julius Caesar: “After the reform-minded emperor Caesar tinkered with the calendar and established January 1 as the beginning of the new year circa 46 B.C. Named for Janus, the two-faced god … the Romans believed that Janus symbolically looked backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future, [offering] sacrifices to the deity and [making] promises of good conduct for the coming year.”

Similarly, it became tradition for early Christians to see the first day of the new year as a time to look back and “think about one’s past mistakes”, as well as to look forward to the new year ahead and “resolve to do better in the future,” which sounds a little more familiar.

The Roman God Janus.


Despite their holier roots, New Year’s resolutions have become increasingly secular in the West, focusing “solely on self-improvement”. On top of that, not many of us are making them anymore – and of those of us who are, few actually see them through. At the end of 2018, YouGov Omnibus data revealed that, “just one in five (22%) Brits hoped to improve themselves in some way by making a New Year’s resolution”. 

“Young Brits were by far the most likely to be making resolutions for 2019, with more than a third (37%) of 18-24 year olds intending to do so. By contrast, only 15% of the oldest Britons – those aged 65 and older – said they would do so. Women are also slightly more likely than men to be forming a pact with themselves for the coming year, at 24% compared to 19%.”

The year before that, YouGov research found that just a quarter (27%) of those who made New Year’s resolutions managed to keep to them all. 


But, for those of us who do decide to make them and, ideally, would like to keep them – just how do we go about doing so? According to Jen A. Miller’s article in The New York Times: How To Make (And Keep) A New Year’s Resolution, we’re most likely to succeed in achieving our resolution if it’s “doable – and meaningful too.”

“A lot of these resolutions fail because they’re not the right resolutions. Your goals should be smart – and SMART. That’s an acronym coined in the journal Management Review in 1981 for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. It may work for management, but it can also work in setting your resolutions, too.”

And if you come across a bump in the road? “First, remember no matter how well you plan, change is hard … Set a plan, but be flexible when life gets in the way.”


At the end of the day, we’re the ones who get to curate our resolutions (and our lives) – no-one else does. If things go tits up on Day 18 (incidentally, 18 January 2019 was officially named “Quitter’s Day” by fitness-tracking app, Strava) you don’t have to immediately sashay away. Instead, see it for what it is, a minor hiccup, and carry on as if it didn’t happen. (Shantay, you stay).

If, on the other hand, you keep coming up against bumps in the proverbial, take a moment to look at your resolution – is it specific enough? Is it meaningful enough? Is it kind enough? There’s no reason why you can’t take things back to the drawing board if you need to.

And, at the end of the day, if even after all of that you completely and utterly fuckiddup? Well, so did 73% of us. Truth is, you’re probably already pretty wonderful just as you are.


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