T'is the season for many people to start making those annual New Year's resolutions. While we all are our own worst critic, isn't a New Year's resolution merely an admission that one isn't perfect just the way they are ? How and why did this tradition of promising to change one's personal goals, lifestyle, or habits even come about ?
The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. In the Medieval era, the knights took the "peacock vow" at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions.
There are other religious parallels to this tradition. During Judaism's New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one's wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. People may act similarly during the Catholic fasting period of Lent, though the motive behind this holiday is more of sacrifice than of responsibility, in fact the practice of New Year's resolutions partially came from the Lenten sacrifices. The concept, regardless of creed, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually.
But what is the success rate of promises made in the heat of the moment and in the spirit of the occasion ? A 2007 study by Richard Wisemen from the University of Bristol 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. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying "lose weight"), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.
Quoting Frank Ra (author of the new year's resolution book "A course in happiness"):
"Resolutions are more sustainable when shared, both in terms of with whom you share the benefits of your resolution, and with whom you share the path of maintaining your resolution. Peer-support makes a difference in success rate with new year's resolutions".
So with all this rich history and tradition behind you go ahead tonight and make that New Year's resolution to drop a few pounds, quit smoking, etc. but just remember that New Year's resolution is an admission you aren't perfect just the way you are.....Happy New Years!