If you resolved to exercise more, save money, or learn a new skill at the beginning of this new year, you are not alone. According to a survey conducted by Tangerine, 69 per cent of Canadians made new year’s resolutions for 2018. Approximately half of the resolutions (54 per cent) were centred on improving physical well-being, and a third (32 per cent) focused on managing finances more effectively. The following article examines the history of New Year’s resolutions, maintaining goals, and the resolutions of The Medium’s four section editors.

History

While creating New Year’s resolutions may seem like a relatively modern trend, its origins trace back around 4000 years to ancient Babylon. The ancient Babylonians were the first to celebrate the new year, which for them, occurred in mid-March when crops were planted. During Akitu, a 12-day religious festival celebrating the new year, the Babylonians promised their gods that they would pay their debts and return any borrowed objects. They reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king or crowned a new king. If the promises were upheld, the Babylonians believed the gods would give them favour.

New Year’s resolutions were a component of ancient Roman traditions as well. January was significant for the Romans as it was named after Janus, a god with two faces—one looking backwards towards the previous year and one faced ahead into the future. The Romans offered sacrifices to Janus and promised to behave properly in the upcoming year.

The practice resurfaced in Western societies in 1740 A.D when John Wesley, an English clergyman, created the Covenant Renewal Service commonly held on New Year’s Eve. Also known as “watch night services,” the event was regarded as a spiritual alternative to holiday partying. Attendees read from scriptures, sung hymns, and renewed their covenant with God. Many evangelical Protestant churches still hold watch night services on New Year’s Eve with individuals praying and making resolutions for the upcoming year.

Today, New Year’s resolutions are nonreligious and are mostly based on self-improvement. The earliest evidence of the word “resolution” being used in a modern context is from the diary of Anne Halkett, a member of the Scottish gentry from the 1600’s. The full phrase “New Year’s Resolutions” appeared together in a Boston newspaper dated January 1st, 1813.

Maintaining Resolutions

Overall, the success rate of New Year’s Resolutions has been found to be dismal. A 2007 University of Bristol study indicated that 88 per cent of the resolutions ended in failure, while a University of Scranton study shockingly found that only 8 per cent of those individuals who made resolutions succeeded. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, researchers found that only 46 per cent of the individuals who formed resolutions at the beginning of a new year were successful in achieving their goals. However, this result was far better than another group of individuals the researchers studied: the non-resolvers—individuals who had a goal they wanted to achieve but did not make a New Year’s Resolution. Only 4 per cent of these non-resolvers were successful at achieving their goals, indicating that individuals who made New Year’s resolutions were ten times more likely to succeed at achieving their goals than those who decided to make life changes at other times of the year.

There are several reasons why people fail at achieving their goals. About a third of the participants who failed their New Year’s resolutions stated that they had unrealistic goals while 23 per cent of the individuals forgot about what they had resolved to do. 33 per cent of the respondents did not keep track of their progress and one in ten admitted that they had too many resolutions and were unable to adhere successfully to all they had planned to do.

To improve one’s chances of following through with the resolutions set at the beginning of a year, researchers recommend engaging in goal setting. Goal setting entails specifically defining small goals which are feasible and can be measured. For instance, instead of vowing to lose weight, plan to lose a pound a week and keep track of progress.

In many instances of failure, individuals blame their own lack of willpower. However, in a Stanford University study, researchers tested whether participants believed that they could improve the amount of self-determination they possessed. The results indicated that participants performed better if they believed that willpower was malleable and worse if they were convinced otherwise. Essentially, you can control the self-determination you actually have by the amount of willpower you think you have.

Resolutions of The Medium

New Year’s resolutions are personal and differ according to each individual. It is always interesting to learn what others hope to accomplish in the upcoming year and often, one can derive inspiration from the goals of others. Here we feature the New Year’s resolutions of the four section editors of The Medium:

Jessica Cabral, Features Editor, says “if I’m being honest with myself I don’t think I stick with any of my New Year’s resolutions.” Instead, she admits to “start[ing] a new ‘resolution’ every month.” She considers the beginning of every month as a way to “restart [her] food plans, exercise routines, and short-term goals.”

For this new month, Cabral does “have some goals in mind that [she]’d like to set for [her]self and hopefully achieve.” She admits that she won’t be “creat[ing] a resolution around exercising because those never work out” and instead, she wants to “tackle something [she] deals with and obsesses over a lot: technology and screen time.” Cabral hopes that she can “limit [her] screen time this year, specifically the amount of time [spent] scrolling through social media feeds.”

Another one of Cabral’s resolutions includes trying to stop “comparing [her] paths, [her] successes, and [her] failures to [those of] other people.”  Cabral says, “I need to take a step back and realize that everyone progresses at their own rate, that my successes are still successes regardless of how big or small they may be. I need to understand that what I see on social media doesn’t always equate to real life. I spend a lot of time fixating on what other people are doing rather than celebrating the triumphs in my own life.”

On a larger scale, Cabral would “like to publish a book, save some money, travel to another province, and read more books for pleasure.”

News Editor, Ali Taha, remarks that, for this year, he would like to “focus on three things: [his] academics, going to the gym, and figuring out [his] career path.” He plans to “hone in on these three goals and work on them to the best of [his] ability.”

Paula Cho, Arts and Entertainment Editor, states that she also doesn’t “normally make New Year’s Resolutions.” However, she “[does] like to constantly remind [herself] to drink less coffee, use reusable grocery bags, and be braver.”

Cho says, “I think my friends would describe me as cautious and somewhat of a perfectionist, so for 2019, I want to remind myself to not second-guess, to be patient and kind with not only others, but myself, and to always keep learning and growing.”

Editor of the Sports and Health section, Vanessa Cesario, has eight New Year’s resolutions for 2019.

“1. I want to continue my routine of going to the gym and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This has really helped me control my anxiety and it also makes me feel really accomplished. 2. I want to eat more healthy and wholesome foods. I’ve always been conscious of what I eat but I do enjoy my sweets so I want to limit those. 3. This one is a little cliché, but I want to love myself more. I’m way too critical of myself and I need to learn to take a step back and realize that I’m doing the best I can,” Cesario explains.

“4. I want to stop stressing about small things that don’t matter. 5. I want to take a photography class and learn how to properly use a camera. I never take photos and I want to change this,” she continues. “6. I want to travel more, be happy, and love and appreciate what I have because life is amazing. 7. I want to learn how to cook so I’ve decided that I’m going to challenge myself by cooking a meal every other week for my family. I would love to say every week but I’m not sure that would be realistic! 8. I have a long list of books that I’ve wanted to read and I want to finish them all this year.”