Why do people make New Year’s resolutions?
When did ringing in the New Year become such a big deal? Turns out, it isn’t just a construct of modern Americans. Some 4,000 years ago, Babylonians rang in their new year with an 11-day festival in March, and ancient Egyptians celebrated the advent of their new calendar during the Nile River’s annual flood. By 46 B.C., Roman emperor Julius Caesar had moved the first day of the year to Jan. 1 in honor of the Roman god of beginnings, Janus, an idea that took some time to catch on. However, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII brought the Jan. 1 New Year back in vogue with the Gregorian calendar — a concept that persists today.
The origin of making New Year’s resolutions rests with the Babylonians, who reportedly made promises to the gods in hopes they’d earn good favor in the coming year. They often resolved to get out of debt.
Sounds familiar? Many of us are still making that resolution today. So what’s the secret to keeping it? Turns out, simply wanting to change is not enough; you need to make it stick. One way to do this is to share your resolution with others.
“When you keep resolutions a secret, no one is going to check up on you. You’re only accountable to yourself,” says Joe Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. He says that a party to publicly share your resolutions is an admirable way to ring in the New Year. Social media offers another avenue to let others in on your goals.
Once you’ve involved others in your resolutions, what steps can you take to ensure that when they do check up on you, you have something positive to report? Here’s some advice from the experts.
The Psychology of New Year’s Resolutions
The success of your New Year’s resolutions starts with your head. Limiting yourself to a few resolutions, maybe even one, and being specific are a few things to keep in mind, says Michael Kitchens, assistant professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa. “It’s tempting to make a list of ‘to-dos,’ but that list will easily be overwhelming and you will end up frustrated.”
Setting a specific goal can make all the difference, such as “I want to lose 10 pounds by March 1” or “I want to save $50 of each paycheck.”
“Set a goal that is challenging, but manageable,” says Kitchens. “This is a sensitive balance that really can only be made by each person.”
Overly ambitious goals can drain a person’s confidence when they’re not met, agrees Ferrari. Instead, build on small, observable victories and possibly achieve bigger goals down the line. “Don’t try and do everything,” he says. “Take things on one at a time.”
Whatever goals you do tackle, be sure to monitor your progress. “If your resolution is to lose weight, check your weight regularly. If it’s to save money, write down where you’ve spent your money. Monitoring those few, challenging goals you set will dramatically improve your success rate,” Ferrari says. Sometimes, just the act of recording everything you eat or spend can cause you to eat or spend less even if you don’t consciously change anything else.
Many resolutions include overcoming bad habits, such as smoking, overeating or too much alcohol consumption. These could be tough because they are easy to rely on when stressed out.
“While these vices are especially difficult to overcome, they can be beaten,” says Kitchens. “One of the best ways is to have a social support system.” In other words, when you’re feeling stressed, call a friend rather than open a bottle of red wine.
Whatever your New Year goals, give yourself some time to make them a reality. More time than you may have planned on, actually. While most people cling to the widespread belief that new habits can be formed in 21 days, new research is suggesting we need a longer timetable. One recent study found it took participants an average of 66 days to do something different — and stick with it
The good news? If you take this advice, your new gym membership won’t become obsolete until March.
Author’s Note: Why do people make New Year’s resolutions?
Although I doubt I’ll keep them all (haven’t yet), I’ll still make resolutions this New Year’s Eve. After researching this article, though, I will be doing one thing differently. This year, instead of sweeping goals that probably won’t come to fruition, I’m going to divide them into more manageable pieces. Experts say I’ll be more successful with goals that have easily identifiable steps — and a reasonable timeframe in which to do them.
Author: Laurie L. Dove
Website: How Stuff Works (People)