The History Of New Year's Resolutions And Where We Are Today

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As we make our way into 2020, let’s take a look at the history of New Year’s resolutions and where we are today. What are your resolutions for the year ahead?
(Read Time: 2 Minutes)

As the year comes to a close, many of us look back and take stock on the past 12 months. We reminisce about awesome moments that will stand out for years to come, we shake our heads and sigh when we note a goal left uncompleted or a personal failure that occurred. Then we ring in the new year and make our big plans for 2020. Our New Year’s Resolutions, as it were. Resolutions feel like these modern, new age be-the-best-you-can-be kind of things, but did you know the concept actually came about around 4,000 years ago? Yup. You read that correctly. Read on for a little bit about the history of New Year's resolutions and where we are today.

Over 4,000 years ago, there was a state in Ancient Mesopotamia called Babylonia. In it was the city of Babylon (whose ruins are found in present day Iraq). According to, here lived the Babylonians who, annually during a 12 day festival called Akitu, rang in their new year (not in January, but when the crops were planted in March), made promises to the gods and resolved to pay any debts they may have accrued in order to be in the gods’ good graces for the new year ahead. Nobody wanted to fall out of favour with the gods. That would be...well...really bad. 

Moving up in the timeline, somewhere around 46 B.C. in Ancient Rome Emperor Julius Caesar officially declared January 1st the beginning of the New Year. The month was named after Janus, a two-faced god that could look backwards and forwards at the same time. Obviously then, the Romans offered past and future seeing Janus sacrifices and promises they’d be on their best behaviour in the New Year.

Fast forward to today, and though these popular resolutions may have become less about religion and pleasing the gods and more about self improvement and betterment, resolutions to be better people as a whole (whether it’s for you or for your gods!) is still, well, in vogue. Fun fact: a survey by the Australian Institute of Management asked over 850 people what their resolutions were for this year. The top 3 resolutions were learning a new skill, getting healthy and getting a new job. Of that same group, 57% completed more than half of their resolutions. That makes me wonder how many, if any, achieved 100%? I think it’s pretty safe to assume that none of these responders completed each and every resolution. I think it’s also safe to assume that no one who had multiple resolutions about self improvement were likely to have achieved them all. Truth be told, most resolutions end up falling flat, lying on the old dirt floor of broken dreams and failed goals by the time February rolls around. That’s not to say people don’t start the year off determined and convinced this year is going to be different - they probably feel whole heartedly as they write their list that it’s going to be a big year for transformation. But reality sets in after a week or so when everyone goes back to work and their old grind. So how do you start the year off with resolutions you can actually achieve? Is it worth making that list at all?

I say yes. I’m a firm believer in starting the new year off with goals that feel good and have the potential to make your year brighter and more positive. But I’m also a believer in practicality. So write a list that is a little closer to achievable. Maybe choose only 3 resolutions instead of 8. Don’t make the kilo loss unrealistic. Look at the year that passed and what your weeks looked like in terms of time. How much time could you devote to learning an instrument? Do you have the funds to pay for those lessons? Don’t crush your dreams before you can even touch pen to paper, but do think about your goals for 2020 in a way that makes them more achievable. Even if its, “for the next three months I will devote 2 hours a week to practicing the piano”. Or, “every other month I will get 2 takeaway coffees a week instead of 4”. It counts. It’s more achievable and at the end you get to feel that brilliant sense of accomplishment instead of failure...and in time, you can push yourself a little bit more. And then a little bit more. Making smaller, more achievable resolutions could lead to achieving even more down the track! 

So get excited about 2020. Because the fact of the matter is that you can actually make this year the year of achievable goals and wonderful, small successes. Start saving money by having a takeaway coffee or two less a week. Take that surf lesson every other weekend for a couple months until you can catch 3 waves in a session. Aiming for something bigger like starting your own business? Take the leap. Launch your website as your first step/goal. Then make your next business goal to lead yourself toward the bigger achievements. You gotta start somewhere. But once you light that fire of success, however small it may begin, you’re gonna want to keep it burning. Brighter and brighter. You’ve got this!

Photo Credit: Issac Smith, Unsplash

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