When, exactly, humans started making new year’s resolutions is unclear. The practice started off in religious roots, but is mostly non-religious today. Some sources say that ancient Babylonians were the first to make them, 4,000 years ago.
During a festival to welcome the new year, they would make promises to the gods that they would repay or return what they owed. These promises were, however, not given the title ‘New Year ‘s Resolutions, but the premise is similar.
Other sources say that the practice has been around for over 200 years. The first recorded resolutions’ list made at the beginning of the year dates back to 1671, according to Merriam Webster.
It was a diary entry by Scottish writer Anne Halkett. The page was titled ‘Resolutions’ and was written on January 2nd, with a number of pledges based on bible verses, such as “I will not offend any more”.
The first time the actual phrase ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ appeared in full was on January 1, 1813, in a Boston Newspaper, so the consensus is that the practice has existed for at least 200 years.
Today, gyms are famously full at the beginning of every year, only to quickly dwindle down as people give up on getting fit. Despite studies showing that 80 per cent of resolutions are broken, we keep making them. Why?
Reverend Ken Aringo, a psychologist, says that the words “New Year”, being a sense of newness, through which we are driven to want to have newness in our own lives.
Psychologically, everyone else is also in that sense of newness, so he says that there is security in numbers, where one feels that they are not alone in it.
“It has been culturally done. It is a trend. Human beings copy each other. If one person is doing something, there is a way in which we get sucked up in it. You can call it peer pressure, societal pressure, or whatever it is,” says Aringo.
“So there is the herd mentality – there is a sense in which I’m not alone, so it will be exciting to know – how did yours go? How did mine go?”
It also feels good to compare where you have been with where one is and where one wants to be, and that period provides fertile ground to do so.
“When I see 2022 coming, I need to ask myself, ‘Has there been any progress made in 2021? Would there be something that I would love to see change or be done differently?’ It provides an opportunity to revisit what has not worked,” he says.
However, there are people who set resolutions because it is exciting to set them. They have romanticised goals, but they only stay on paper, never to see the light of day.
“There is also that little pressure of someone asking you what your resolutions are. You want to have something to report about. Nowadays it is called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out),” says Aringo.
Whatever the reason, most people don’t stick to their resolutions. Is there any point in making them then? Rev Aringo says yes.
“The only thing that remains relevant when it is old is wine!” he says with a laugh. “There is something called rebooting in computer language. It is very important. I want to ensure that I am actually renewing myself. The worthwhileness of making the resolution is the sense of renewal and also the satisfaction of knowing that you are in a process of transformation and growth. If I have the exact same resolutions today that I will have five years from now, something is wrong with me. That is why you should also assess your growth path.”
Aringo has been making and writing down New Year’s resolutions for over 20 years and is working on his 2022. He says that it is important to actually write them down, even if one does not execute them.
“If there is no inscription, there is no prescription. I learned that about 15 years ago from one of my very good mentors. Jotting them down on paper or a vision board, whatever it is, helps you keep tabs on yourself and to assess whether you are making progress.”
According to him, the best way to ensure that one follows through on one’s resolutions is to have an accountability partner.