What is a New Year’s Resolution and How to Commit to One
Where did it start?
Scholars believe the origin of the ‘New Year’s Resolution’ started with the ancient Babylonians (about 2000 BC – 500 BC), who made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. Shortly after, during the height of the Roman Empire (about 25 BC – 475 AD), many citizens began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. During the Medieval era (about 5th Century – 1400s), the knights took the ‘peacock vow’ at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. Therefore, in a symbolic way, many individuals in our current time have adopted a similar promise or reaffirmation of self-improvement.
New Year’s Resolution Statistics: Rates of Success
At the end of the Great Depression (1929 – 1939), about a quarter of American adults formed New Year's resolutions (Gallop, 2016). At the start of the 21st century, according to the American Medical Association, that number rose to about 50% of Americans participate in the New Year's resolution tradition (AMA, 2016). A 2007 study involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study's participants were confident of success at the beginning (Wiseman, 2008). The most common reason for participants failing their New Years' Resolutions was setting unrealistic goals (35%), while 33% didn't keep track of their progress and a further 23% simply forgot about their resolution altogether. About 10% claimed they made too many resolutions (AMA, 2016).
New Year’s Resolution Tips
Consequently, one might ask, what’s the point in having a resolution with such poor prognostic statistics? Actually, it should also be noted that 46% of those who endeavor to make common resolutions (e.g. weight loss, exercise programs, quitting smoking) were over 10 times more likely to have a rate of success as compared to only 4% who chose not to make resolutions (Gallop, 2016). Hence, setting a New Year’s Resolution can be a helpful step in a positive direction, if certain supportive factors are implemented along with the goal. Here is a list of seven helpful, supportive factors for ensuring a successful New Year’s Resolution:
1. Be realistic. Make realistic New Year’s resolutions you know can keep. Be realistic with yourself regarding your level of commitment and will power. If you are not exercising at all and your goal is to exercise one hour per day, every single day; that goal may not be realistic.
2. Be VERY specific. Focus on one resolution, rather several and set realistic, specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 pounds in 90 days would be. Create an area of focus rather than a goal which taps into your intrinsic motivation, and one that offers no stimulus or incentive to cheat.
3. Write your goal down. There is tons of researched evidence that supports the likelihood of a goal being achieved if it is written down and kept in a place to be reviewed often. Additionally, make certain that your goals are written in a measurable terms. Once you have written out your goal, then write out “why” accomplishing this goal is important to you at this time in your life.
4. Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is
too big requiring too much effort and action all at once. Along the lines
of step 2, write down the small steps required to reaching the larger goal.
Taking 20 to 30 minutes to sit down and plan this out is essential to your
5. Keep track of your progress. There is a powerfully uplifting emotion that comes along with seeing one’s progress toward an important goal. Either journal or create a spreadsheet of your mini accomplishments toward the larger goal.
6. Have coping strategies for slip ups. Having an accountability partner or involving family and friends with our plan can help keep you on track. If you do fall of track of your detailed plan, don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun and laugh at yourself when you slip, and don’t let the slip hold you back from getting back on track and working at your goal. Forgive yourself and make adjustments to your detailed plan if necessary.
7. Reward yourself often. Positively reinforce your efforts and accomplishments along the way. Perhaps each small step goal is rewarded with a special treat, or a dollar put into a jar, that’s collected and spent when the final goal has been accomplished. Again, seeing progress and receiving incentives along the way tend to create a positive momentum toward accomplishing the larger goal.
Written by Michael J. Maxwell, Ph.D., LPC-S, NCC, CSC
Associate Professor | Argosy University, Dallas
American Medical Association (2016, December). 7 Health Recommendations. retrieved from
Gallop (2016, March). Invisible American. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com
Wiseman, R. (2008). Quirkology: How we discover the big truths in small things. New York:
The information and opinions expressed herein represent the independent opinions and ideas of the author and do not represent the opinions and ideas of Argosy University.