Getting New Year’s resolutions right

23 January 2015

This past week I found myself on more than one occasion wishing that the first quarter of the year should end already, so that most people can fall back into old habits and life as I know it can resume.

Each New Year gives people all kinds of hope and belief that they can turn their lives around, and that old and bad habits can become a thing of the past.

But as history has shown such hopes and beliefs are rather misplaced.

Last week I walked into the gym and thought to myself here we go again I need to brace myself for an overcrowded experience for the next two months or so, and eventually all the New Year’s resolution members will disappear and the regulars can exercise in peace.

This was not me being negative of anyone’s dreams, but it’s true that the gym is packed at the beginning of every year for about two or three months with new members and returnees who would have been absent for the last six months.

So as I looked around at what looked like more of a fanfare than a place to rid oneself of stress and December weight, I took a deep breath and kept reminding myself that everyone will start disappearing soon enough. 

I began to wonder why we have basically come to accept that New Year’s resolutions are the empty promises we make to ourselves annually without fail or conviction.

One would think that when you are making the same resolution five years in a row, it’s safe to say we either lack focus, motivation or a bit of both.

Making New Year’s resolutions is not a new trend, it?s believed that the Babylonians were the first to make New Year’s resolutions around 4,000 years ago, and people all over the world have been breaking them ever since .

The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year, which began in mid-March, that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.

March was a logical time period for the New Year because spring begins and crops are planted, but the Babylonians had a greater motivation to stick to their promises than what we have today.

For the ancient people of Mesopotamia, keeping their promise would mean that their gods would bestow their grace on them throughout the course of the following 12 months, and breaking them would put them out of favour.

Today, the only thing that has changed is that, rather than making promises to gods, we make promises to ourselves, and since we cannot possibly rain thunders and lightning on ourselves as punishment for not keeping our promises, it need not surprise us that sooner or later we fail in staying true to our words.

For those who lack the discipline and will to honour the promises you make to yourselves, why not set yourself up for success in 2015 by either making your goals public, or getting an accountability partner. In doing so, you assert more pressure on yourself to achieve your goals.

We all have different struggles in life, and it’s up to each person to identify that weakness, and take time to strategize on how to ensure that this year’s resolutions won’t make it on our 2016 list as well. 

The Romans were worshippers offering resolutions of good conduct to the two-faced deity named Janus, the god of beginnings and endings who looks backward into the old year and forward into the new. 

In the Medieval era, knights took the “peacock vow” (les voeux du paon) at the end of the year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry, while early Christians believed the first day of the new year should be spent reflecting on past mistakes and resolving to improve oneself in the new year.  

A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions failed, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning.

The study also showed that men could achieve their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.

We all differ in our approach to a problem, for some the trick will be to properly reflect on the year that was and realise that we have not properly prioritised what we should be doing differently in 2015.

For others it will be the realisation that, just like with everything else that succeeds in life, it will take time, possibly more than a year of proper planning and most importantly the will to want to be better.

Therefore it’s not too late for those of us who have to go back to the drawing board. For others who have not considered doing things slightly differently this year, there is still place on the boat so hop on, and let’s show the Babylonians one can change for oneself.

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The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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