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New Year’s Resolutions: Why We Do What We Do

By December 20, 2016December 28th, 2021Balance, Healthy Living

New Year's 2022The morning radio show host was talking with a financial specialist, asking for any tips she believed people should focus their New Year’s resolutions on. The financial analyst was advising more people to get serious about their financial affairs, as Canadian household debt climbed to a record relative to disposable income in the second quarter of 2015.

Maybe not too surprisingly, though, she stated that the number one resolution centers on people’s weight and their health, not their current financial situation. Listening to this conversation I was curious about New Year’s and resolutions in general. Where did it all begin?

Celebrating New Years is an Ancient Tradition

When did ringing in the New Year become a tradition? It turns out, it isn’t just a modern-day celebration. The earliest recorded festivities honoring the arrival of a new year dates back 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox — the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness — heralded the start of a new year.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed increasingly sophisticated calendars, typically pinning the first day of the year to an agricultural or astronomical event. In ancient Egypt the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The first day of the Chinese new year occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

Celebrating New Years is an ancient tradition. Do you make New Year's Resolutions? #resolutions #NewYearsClick To Tweet

By 46 B.C., Roman emperor Julius Caesar had moved the first day of the year to January 1st in honor of the Roman God of beginnings, Janus. The idea took some time to catch on. Then in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII brought the January 1 New Year back in vogue with the Gregorian calendar. This continues on today.

The Origins of New Year’s Resolutions

Making New Year’s resolutions originated with the Babylonians, who reportedly made promises to the Gods in hopes they’d earn good favor in the coming year. They often resolved to get out of debt. That got me thinking about the radio conversation with the financial analyst again.

If health is number one on people’s resolution list every year, I was curious what other resolutions people continue to commit to.

Health is consistently the #1 resolution on most people's New Years resolutions list. What's yours? #health #NewYearsClick To Tweet

Health and Weight Loss ResolutionTop 10 New Year’s Resolutions

These were the top New Year’s resolutions for 2016 and are similar every year:

  • Stay fit and healthy — 37%
  • Lose weight — 32%
  • Enjoy life to the fullest — 28%
  • Spend less, save more — 25%
  • Spend more time with family and friends — 19%
  • Organizing their life — 18%
  • Will not make any resolutions — 16%
  • Learn something new/new hobby — 14%
  • Travel more — 14%
  • Read more — 12%

How many people make resolutions and what’s their success at keeping them?

  • Americans who usually make New Year’s Resolutions — 45%
  • Those who infrequently make New Year’s Resolutions — 17%
  • Americans who absolutely never make New Year’s Resolutions — 38%
  • Percent of people who are successful in achieving their resolution — 8%
  • Those who have infrequent success — 49%
  • Percent who never succeed and fail on their resolution each year — 24%

So if such a large majority of the population makes resolutions, why do so few succeed?

The Costs of Failed Resolutions

In the book Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, the authors polled 1,800 people to see what they could learn about making and keeping resolutions. They found that half of all those who make resolutions give up on their goals by the end of January. Maybe not too surprising to hear. And three out of the four people who do make it to February give up by the end of March.

Maxfield continues that “Giving up on these resolutions is costly.” “Of course people’s success and self-esteem take a hit. But we were surprised by the financial impact of a failed resolution: seven out of ten said their failure cost them more than $1,000.

Making the Same Resolution Repeatedly

Maxfield continued that three out of four respondents said they’d made and then failed to keep the exact same, costly resolution for more than five years! So why do we humans keep repeatedly doing the same thing? In the words of the brilliant Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Indeed.

Fact: Most people make the same #resolution each year and then are not successful in keeping them. #health #NewYearsClick To Tweet

Using scientific analysis of their results, the authors showed that when it comes to making major changes in our lives, willpower is simply not enough. Hopefully not too surprising for any of us. Maxfield calls this “the willpower trap.” Although willpower matters, those who keep their resolutions focus on six areas of influence; personal motivation, personal ability, social motivation, social ability, structural motivation, and structural ability.

The authors’ research showed that those who include the six sources of influence in their resolution plans are 10 times more likely to succeed than those who don’t. So don’t be hard on yourself if you are among the many who aren’t able to keep your resolutions. It isn’t that you’re lazy or weak-willed after all, but that maybe you’re putting all your effort into one area rather than all six.

Keeping Our Resolutions

Finances as a New Year's ResolutionApparently, if you can’t measure it, it’s not a very good resolution. Vague goals result in vague resolutions. And successful resolutions also begin long before January 1st, in what some researchers call the “contemplation phase.” That’s the period when you formulate an attainable goal and the confidence that you can stick with it.

There are many suggestions on how to keep your resolutions and boost your motivation to stay on track. One way. Tell other people about your goal or involve others in the effort, so that it’s more difficult to quit.

Another is to have a serious financial stake in the outcome, which is what the authors of Change Anything found. A perfect example came from George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied financial incentives and weight loss, and who devised ways to include social support and pressure, competition and money to spur obese veterans to lose weight.

In two separate studies, participants lost nearly a pound a week, significantly more than a control group. However, when the money stopped flowing, the weight came back. It brought back the radio interview again. It’s too bad that money and the success of our resolutions are often so tied together.

How Healthy Are You?

If health continues to be the number one New Year’s resolution, why aren’t more people achieving their goal? Do you have health goals you’re committed to reaching in 2020? You’re invited to a complimentary health consultation where we’ll work together to design your personalized and achievable 2020 health plan! Please email me to set up a time to talk! To your health…

As we enter another new year, what resolutions, if any, are you making? What tools do you use to help you keep them?

Beverley Golden

Beverley Golden is a writer, storyteller, peacenik and health & vitality consultant, who loves testing unconventional ways to shift paradigms in the playing fields of health and wellness, storytelling and creativity as a path to world peace. Her passion is turning the “impossible” into the possible, using her own experiences with a lifetime of health issues, to inspire and support others to live their life to the fullest. You're invited to a Complimentary Health Consultation, starting with the True Health Assessment that offers a customized personalized snapshot of how healthy you are in the areas of lifestyle, heredity and nutrition. Contact me to get started!


  • Dana says:

    Hey, I’m doing bette than I thought! (Since I actually started back in November). My goal is to write more. I was on track before my son died. And I picked it up about three years ago, but my motivation was more about raising money for a children’s home in his memory. I had immediate success, but when the money was raised, I dropped it because it took a lot of energy I just didn’t have yet.

    Good luck with your plans and goals for the New Year!

    • That’s awesome to hear, Dana! I think that you starting in November really does give you a head start and a chance to make concrete what you want 2017 to look like for you. Sorry to hear about your son and I appreciate that you created a charitable initiative to honour him and to help other children in his memory. Fund raising absolutely does take a LOT of time and energy and maybe what you did was exactly what needed to be done. Best of luck to you with your 2017 ‘resolutions’ and hope you get back to writing more if that fuels your soul!

  • Well a resolution could be something good, but to me it is more of one of those standard things of tradition you do, as eating painted eggs on Easter because it’s Easter. A resolution is something everyone did or do, so you come up with one too. But it really often has nothing to do with what you really want. And if I would need to loose weight, I would not set it as a New Years resolution, but rather as a goal for myself at a moment when I have thought it through how to do it, etc. 🙂 Though this is me not really believing in New Year’s resolutions…;-)
    Katarina Andersson recently posted…A Journey through Italian Wine and Christmas MemoriesMy Profile

    • It is very possible that resolutions are indeed becoming passé, Katarina. A lot of people are looking at them more as intentions or goals now. Especially with all the encouragement to work in mastermind groups and have accountability partners. I like your way to seeing what would work for you too. Yes, set a goal and the steps necessary to achieve it. It’s good to question what something like New Year’s Resolutions would mean to you too, as if it doesn’t resonate, why do it! 🙂 All the best in 2017!

  • Joyce Hansen says:

    I had no idea the history of resolutions went back to Babylonian times, Beverley. Sounds like this has been a problem for most folks down through the ages. I know there are some who are good at goal-setting and following through. Then there are some of us with good intentions but not good plan or strategy to implement. And, sadly the rest are just going to wing it. One of the things that I think contributes to the problem are the subconscious beliefs we hold about success and failure. We may be all fired up at the beginning of the years but those nasty beliefs can creep in quickly if you’re not vigilant. This year, I’m re-thinking my approach to what I want to accomplish. I have a few days to work on it and I’ll see if I can stop procrastinating long enough to get it done.
    Joyce Hansen recently posted…Why It’s Easy to Self-Sabotage SuccessMy Profile

    • Having been in a year long course this year, Joyce, I see how even our smaller group of five, seemed to lose a lot of momentum in the last few months. Apparently mid-point in the year is when the most people drop out or disappear. I agree with you about subconscious beliefs and also I would add a lack of tangible results. Whether or not the person has actually put any concrete action steps in place. I’m also somewhat guilty of that too. I get very excited but want to see quick results. Love that you are calling yourself out and acknowledging your procrastination, and I hope that you’ve been able to come up with a doable plan for yourself, now that you’ve rethought it! Happy 2017!

  • Lorii Abela says:

    Yes, the gyms and weight loss centers earn the big part of their yearly income on the first part of the year. Most don’t follow through. January 3rd is the biggest day for online dating sites.

    • That’s interesting to hear about online dating sites, Lorii, as I had heard that most people only last maximum 4 months on them. So from January to March or April makes sense. It’s amazing what people commit to and how rarely they actually follow through.

  • This year.. like any other.. I have created resolutions… but this year I have created so many.. several in various avenues of my life – financial, educational, personal, my shooting, business, etc.. and named things that I want to do in those areas to help be track them. I don’t think anything is wrong with making goals but they have to be SMART. 🙂
    Kristen Wilson recently posted…Using Pinterest Collaborative Boards to Grow Your BusinessMy Profile

    • It sounds like you have been very conscious of what you want 2017 to be for you, Kristen, which is incredibly proactive! Kudos to you. And yes, when we make resolutions or set intentions or goals, they do have to be smart (I know that’s an acronym used these days) to most of all achievable! Have a fabulous time reaching yours… 🙂

  • Thanks for the history of the resolutions tradition. I tend to choose one word to focus upon for the year. The simplicity of one word ensures my success. Last year the word was Allow. I haven’t picked my word for 2017 yet. Thanks for sharing this!
    Candess Campbell recently posted…Slow Down, Relax and Enjoy!My Profile

    • Like you, Candess, I do choose one or two words as my theme to focus on for the year. 2016 my words were ease and fruition. Not sure what 2017’s word will be either. I found 2016 a challenging year and see that 2017 has some challenges in store for us all too. Best if we focus on ourselves and what we can do to contribute to how quickly the world is changing! All the best in 2017.

  • Sonya Kolodziejska says:

    Great post and YES, more people need to worry about their financial health too!
    My new years resolution is simple: Make more time for myself.

    • Thanks so much Sonya! Happy to hear you enjoyed this post. Funny how people don’t put their financial health first and yet I see that as a big, big issue for the upcoming year. Love your resolution for yourself. All the best in making more time for yourself!

  • Robin says:

    This year, more so than in past years, I do plan to resolve to get healthier. I use to work out, but have let it slide, and have learned I feel better when I work out. I know there is no magic bullet, but feel ready. Great article to get me more motivated.
    Robin recently posted…The History of Trifari JewelryMy Profile

    • Love your resolve and commitment to yourself to make 2017 a healthier you year, Robin. Hopefully that commitment will bring you really positive results too. There is definitely no magic, it does require consistency for sure. Glad this post offered you some motivation to stay the course!

  • Hi Beverley 🙂

    Really enjoyed reading about the history of New Years…I learned quite a lot from your post, thank you!

    As for New Year’s Resolutions, I know for myself I have made a few over the years and have always seemed to fail at keeping them as well 🙂

    I am going about this resolution thing a little different this time, I am going through an exercise called “purge and release” and have made a list of several things that I need to get organized or just throw away. Then after I have completed my list I am going to burn it and release it so that I can start the New Year off right 🙂

    Wash my hands and done! Sounds easy right?

    I have to say though I have completed the first item on my list so far and feel so good getting rid of stuff I just do not need or use anymore 🙂

    Happy Holidays to you and your family!

    Have a wonderful weekend 🙂
    Joan M Harrington recently posted…How To Become a Social Media Rockstar That Engages and Delights Your Target AudienceMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Joan and I am delighted you learned a lot about the history of New Year’s and resolutions! That’s always what I am aiming for, so I appreciate it. It sounds like your experience with making and not keeping resolutions has opened the way for you to create a new system for yourself. I love the idea of “purge and release” and that you are working your way down your list. I imagine that gives a really big sense of accomplishment to be able to see all the things you’ve crossed off your list! It always does sound easy, however, I know that the doing of it, is often more challenging!

      Wishing you great fun and success as you work through your list and may you and your family have a joyful and stress-free holiday season!

  • Okay, I’m laughing– I quit making New Year’s Resolutions years and years and well, maybe decades ago. Lol. What I do instead is appreciate what I have accomplished in the last year, and give thanks for what I’m willing to allow in, in the next.
    This bit of history really tweaked me though! Especially: “made promises to the Gods in hopes they’d earn good favor in the coming year. ”
    Because that’s what resolutions really are, aren’t they? So cool! Thank you!
    Susan Mary Malone recently posted…When to Freak Out and When to Remain CalmMy Profile

    • Love your very healthy way to looking at resolutions and allowing new things into your life, Susan! I don’t make resolutions either, but usually do a review or reassessment to look ahead over the 12 Holy Nights. The history about New Year’s Resolutions is very interesting and happy you picked out that bit about making promises to the Gods in hopes for good favour. It is what we do indeed, although we play a big part in it as well. Thank you for your enthusiasm and support! Happy Holidays!

  • Meghan says:

    What a thorough, thought-provoking, and informative article about New Year’s resolutions! New Year’s isn’t a big deal in our household. We don’t get too excited about New Year’s resolutions because we know that we can wake up any day and every day and decide to change or improve ourselves, our lives. I love your points about human behavior and needing a stake in the outcome and social support. I actually need a deadline or my goals just simply don’t happen! Happy New Year Beverley!

    • Glad you enjoyed this article about New Year’s resolutions, Meghan! Like you and your family, I don’t make resolutions per se, but reassess on an ongoing basis and make the changes I see are needed in that moment. It still fascinates me that people make gigantic resolutions over and over again and yet continue to fail to keep them. Human behaviour is fascinating indeed! I personally love to see things moving in a forward direction and that is what revs me up and keeps me going. Thanks for your support and wishing you and your family a very happy New Year too!

  • Reba Linker says:

    Fun facts about resolutions. Very important point about the hit our self-esteem takes when we fail to keep a resolution. That’s a concept I work with a lot in terms of manifesting as well. I keep my resolutions small and do-able, if I make any at all, something like a determination to floss my teeth twice a day or something like that. I use the Jewish New Year as a time for setting soul intentions, so it is not quite the same, it is more of a prayer than a promise, if that makes any sense.
    Reba Linker recently posted…Self-Sabotage is a Good ThingMy Profile

    • Appreciate you sharing your thoughts about resolutions and how you set soul intentions on the Jewish New Year, Reba. That’s lovely! The idea of small and doable intentions, really makes a lot of sense for us all. I find it fascinating that people make the same resolution over and over again and yet, aren’t able to keep them. If more people would commit to themselves all year long and keep their commitments, perhaps there wouldn’t be such a hit on people’s self-esteem and they would see that they are able to accomplish more than they give themselves credit for!

  • Teresa Salhi says:

    More reasons why you do what you do Beverley and why I do what I do….support others to fulfill their dreams and reach their goals. Accountability is huge too along with an empowering support system.
    Teresa Salhi recently posted…Protected: Lesson 5 – I Choose ConfidenceMy Profile

    • Thanks for your support Teresa! Yes, we both do what we do to support and empower others and to encourage them to reach for their dreams and to know they can do it!

  • Lori English says:


    Loved the article. It was very inspiriing and led me to think of new plan for 2017 and making goals to continue working towards my buisness goals, and making sure to take time for self care which is important as ever in the industry I am in. A lovely article and wish you a happy holidays.

    Lori English

    • Thanks so much Lori and I am happy you enjoyed this article! I love hearing about your process for making plans and setting goals for the new year too. And yes, to self care and putting ourselves first. Happy Holidays to you and all the best in the new year.

  • Tamuria says:

    Interesting that such a large percentage never make New Year resolutions, Beverley. I think I agree with this. I hate to start a new year with lots of pressure on myself. I tend to use January as my contemplation phase and work towards making serious changes a few months later.

    • I think a lot of people have stopped making resolutions, Tami, which might account for the large percentage who say they don’t. We (my art group) have a process we use for contemplation during the 12 Holy Nights and it is a wonderful way to assess where we are at now and then reflect what you want the future to look like and what you need to do to get to that place. Sounds like you’ve created your own way of entering the new year and then working on the things you are ready to change. All the best in the new year!

  • I like to make goals for the new year. But I usually start this process in December with revisiting what I have accomplished and what I want to do next. January 1st is the day I write up these goals. No contemplation on that day. It’s just for documenting. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • Sounds like you have a process that works for you when it comes to new year’s goals, Sabrina. It is a great practice to reassess where we’ve come from so we can make changes and plans to move forward. All the best in the new year!