A New Year. A new beginning. January 1 holds all sorts of possibilities, opportunities to start anew, opportunities to wipe away the old and begin with a fresh slate.
It seems I’m not alone in my rose-coloured-glasses view of New Year’s resolutions. Around 50% of Australians make a New Year’s resolution. The problem is, of those that do, 88% fail. This year though, I’m determined to be in the other 12%. I will stick to my resolution: to write at least one blog per week. Towards the end of last year, all my blog writing tapered off to, well, nothing.
But not this year. This year I will be more committed. I promise. Honest to God. 2015 will be the year of regular writing.
According to the psychological boffins out there, there are three top tips for a successful resolution:
- Set achievable goals instead of ideal goals
- Expect setbacks
- Don’t use excuses or setbacks to put it off for another year
All sounds pretty simple really. When it comes to resolutions, we all just need to start somewhere and not throw our hands up in despair when one little slip-up befalls our resolve. We need to give ourselves permission not to be perfect 100% of the time. Little slip-ups are not the end of the world. They are what make the journey interesting. And, the journey will take different people different amounts of time. While the popular belief is that it takes a few weeks to break bad habits, in reality, it can take anywhere up to 12 months, and three or four serious attempts to knock that bad habit on the head.
While I was contemplating my New Year’s resolution, I started to wonder, why exactly do we make these promises to ourselves every year? Why is it that we pick January 1 as an arbitrary date to change the course of our lives?
The History of New Year’s Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions are not a modern tradition. Their origins date back more than 4,000 years, to the ancient Babylonians. The Babylonians rang in the New Year each March, rather than in January, to celebrate the spring harvest in a 12 day long festival known as Akitu. Central to the rituals of Akitu were New Year’s resolutions – the resolution of commitment that all people made to the newly crowned new king, or to the existing king. Resolutions were also made by the Babylonians to reaffirm their loyalty to the Gods. After all, it was the continued worship of the Gods by mere mortals that kept civilisations safe.
The ancient Romans followed very similar traditions. In the early days of Rome, each year on March 1, the magistrates would affirm before the entire assembled Roman Senate that they had performed their duties according to the laws of the land in the previous year. Then, the New Year’s magistrates would be sworn into office. By the time Rome became an empire in 27 BC, New Year’s day was set aside for the great nation’s leaders and soldiers to publicly proclaim their resolution of commitment to the ruling Emperor.
It wasn’t until approximately 300 BC that the New Year’s celebrations were moved to January 1. While there has been some debate over the exact date and reasons for the move, it is widely believed that the March 1 date became too late a date to swear fidelity to one’s leader for the increasingly military focused Roman Empire. With battle season in the Spring, Roman armies had to move out long before the March 1 date to ensure that all generals and foot soldiers were in place before the big campaigns.
The change from January (which was associated with the god of home and hearth, Janus) to the month of March (which was associated with Mars, the god of war) also made more sense, particularly given that Roman citizens bestowed gifts of honey and pears on one another, to foster a sweet New Year.
Janus was the two-faced god who was able to look both backwards into the old year and forwards into the New Year. The patron and protector of arches, gates, doors, doorways, endings and beginnings, it seems only fitting that the beginning of each New Year should be looked upon by Janus’ four watchful eyes!
It is thought that the custom of setting New Years resolutions began during this period in Rome. Roman citizens are thought to have made resolutions with a moral flavour: mostly to be good to others.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman in the fourth century, these moral resolutions were quickly replaced with prayers and fasting. In fact, Christians observed the Feast of the Circumcision on January 1 in place of the revelry otherwise indulged in by those who did not share the faith.
The desire to start anew each year is a reoccurring theme throughout history. If we fast-forward to the medieval era, we see knights taking what was referred to as the ‘peacock vow’. This vow was taken each year, after Christmas, as public resolution to chivalry, starting each year with a fresh commitment to the code of chivalry.
Today, New Year’s resolutions are a time-honoured tradition, with most people focused on self-improvement goals like loosing weight, quitting smoking, and saving money.