New Year's Resolutions: The History and Psychology Behind Them

Everybody likes making New Year's resolutions, few know why they feel compelled to do so

Optimism aside, we all need to face it: more often than not, New Year's resolutions are nothing more and nothing less than a “to do” list for the first week of January. By the time these seven days of the New Year are gone, so is our motivation.

Apparently, New Year's resolutions date back to about 4000 years ago, when the ancient Babylonians used to make various promises to their gods for the sole purpose of making sure they would bestow their grace on them throughout the course of the following twelve months.

Whether they made these promises to the gods because they actually meant what they said or because they simply thought that the gods were keen on hearing them is a whole other issue.

Anyway, it seems that the Romans also debuted each year by making similar promises to the god Janus, and the knights in medieval times would reaffirm their commitment to chivalry towards the end of each year.

So all in all, the idea of promising to do this or do that at the end of each year is nothing new. 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.

Psychologists explain this issue as follows: it often happens that people scribble down various New Year's resolutions without taking the time to ponder on them and figure out how badly they want to change a given behavior and/or achieve a given goal.

Moreover, almost nobody bothers to also piece together a strategy that would allow them to stick to their New Year's resolutions.

Most of the times, people just expect to simply wake up on the morning of January 1 and no longer feel the need to eat junk food, drink a tad too more or smoke.

Seeing how long-term behaviors do not go away just because we want them to, failure is right around the corner.

As psychologist Paul Grant puts it, "People set ones that they haven't really thought about. This increases the chances to not actually achieve them."

"Think about what strategies you're going to use, how you are going to monitor them and how you are going to keep yourself on track," Paul Grant goes on to add.

In other words, people should ready themselves to experience minor and sometimes even major setbacks when trying to completely turn their lives around and walk an entirely different path.

"If we are giving ourselves a hard time about not achieving our New Year's resolution, that can make it a negative experience. Choosing something that you're motivated to work towards is a big thing. Be aware that we're much more likely to succeed in things if it is really important to us," Paul Grant concluded.

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