How to keep your New Year’s resolutions

How to keep your New Year’s resolutions

Making a New Year’s resolution is as common as waiting for summer in winter or winter in summer. Although increasingly more people look at those who make resolutions with skepticism or even a bit of mockery, probably this tradition will not disappear soon. But what motivates people to attach so much importance to the change of the year? Can the New Year actually fulfill everything we hope for?


New Year’s resolutions have a long history. Some believe that approximately 4,000 years ago, the Babylonians were the first to make vows, although they did it in March when the crops were sown. They are also believed to have been the first to hold a New Year celebration, which lasted for twelve days. They crowned the new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the current ruler, made vows to the gods and repaid their debts before the start of the new year.

Julius Caesar’s reform significantly impacted New Year’s resolutions, with January 1 designated as the start of the New Year in 46 BC. The first month of the year was named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and endings. He is depicted as two faces facing in opposite directions.

So, reflecting on the past and looking to the future is not a new habit; we merely adjust the tradition to our circumstances and desires. Nowadays, the modern person is making vows to themselves and not some higher power. This sounds quite reasonable because the end of a period deriving from the cyclicality of time can be a good occasion to overview the lessons we learned and set new goals. Still, many people are very critical of New Year’s resolutions. But why?

Simply because, although they might sound really good, they are often pretty unrealistic. Many people make unachievable vows without phasing or concrete, well-defined steps. We have all heard of people who aim to lose significant weight, change their diet completely, run a marathon, or learn a new language in the coming year, but they failed to plan how they will achieve it. Drastic changes sound very appealing until the 1st of January (or the 2nd for the more indulgent), when we would have to put on our trainers and head down to the gym or the running track.

According to statistics, around 59% of young Americans aged 18 to 34 make New Year’s resolutions. It is a more common habit among the youth than among older people. 48% of resolutions concern exercising: everyone plans to do more sports in the new year. The most popular resolutions focus on developing a healthier lifestyle: In addition to the classic sports and healthy diet combination, many people aim to drink less alcohol or quit smoking. It is also common for people to decide to save more money or spend less time in front of screens.

The following figures can explain why people who make New Year’s resolutions became the target of irony, mockery, and memes: 23% of them quit their planned new habits in the first week of the year, and only 36% can keep them until the end of January. The percentage of people who can successfully keep their resolutions is merely 9%.

Psychology can easily explain these disappointing figures. It is tempting to see the new year as a blank slate with unlimited potential in our hands to exploit. Our habits and lifestyle do indeed play a major role in shaping our future, but the change of the year has no effect on our circumstances or bad habits. The resolutions usually fail because people expect the excitement of the new year to keep their vows instead of their own will. (As in the latter case, they could have started the change on any day of the year.) The initial enthusiasm can quickly fade because, on the one hand, making drastic lifestyle changes is rarely sustainable in the long-term, and on the other hand, they have not formulated steps towards their aim when preparing for the new year but only defined the goal.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that we should not make and keep New Year’s resolutions. There are many strategies to help to be more efficient, and we should have more humble aims. For instance, only one New Year’s resolution might be enough. To be honest, long lists of New Year’s resolutions are immediately doomed due to their length, as it is virtually impossible to implement many changes overnight. Setting merely one goal focuses our attention and anticipation on one aspect of our lives, and the excitement deriving from the new year is not divided among many plans.

Psychologists also often say that we should avoid repeating or reusing our former resolutions. If we have already once or more failed to sustain the new habit, it is better to explore the underlying reasons than try to keep it again and just hope that this time we will succeed. It is more efficient to find the root causes of why we fail the resolution or even to reconsider whether it is worth sticking with it.

It was already mentioned earlier that many people want to achieve their goals blindly, without a concrete plan. This results in failed resolutions that could have been achieved with well-defined steps. To avoid this, we should focus on the steps to achieve our goal instead of the aim itself. So, instead of saying, „I want to lose 10 kilograms,” it is better to formulate that, „I will exercise three times a week,” which is more tangible and probably leads to our ultimate goal.

The problem is not with New Year’s resolutions but with their implementation: we usually attach some mystical significance to the change of the year, but the change should come from ourselves, and New Year can only serve as a good occasion for starting this change. But this is not possible without willpower.

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