We all make New Year’s resolutions, don’t we? And more often than we care to admit, we struggle to keep up with them, eventually give up, feel bad about it, and promise to start over again next year.
If this loop sounds familiar it’s because people have wrestled with resolutions, and New Year’s resolutions in particular, forever. The desire to take control of our lives is as old as humankind. So how can we succeed where so many before us have failed?
A brief history of the struggle with New Year’s Resolutions
The first people who left recorded new year pledges were the ancient Babylonians some 4000 years ago. Unlike now, their year started in March, with the planting of the crops, at which time they would pledge allegiance to the king and make promises to the gods to pay their debts. Like us, the Babylonians were more inclined to record their resolutions than how these turned out. Which tells us something about how successful they were.
A similar practice took place in ancient Rome, with the difference being that after the emperor Julius Cesar reformed the calendar (circa 46 B.C.), the start of the new year was established on January 1. On that day the Romans would make promises of good behavior to the gods and, probably knowing they’d find it hard to maintain good conduct, also tried to appease in advance the gods with plenty of offers.
The struggle with New Year’s resolutions continued down the centuries, and by the early 1800s, we have written evidence of the people’s frustration with them. In an 1802 issue of the Irish Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, a series of satirical resolutions pokes fun at all the broken promises, vows, and pledges: “Statesmen have resolved to have no other object in view than the good of their country... Physicians have determined to prescribe no more than is necessary, and to be very moderate in their fee.” People never change.
Or can they?
How Epictetus would approach his New Year’s Resolutions
Resolutions are formal expressions of our desire to change ourselves and our circumstances. But this is not always possible. Epictetus, a Greek stoic philosopher born into slavery in the 1st century A.D., recognized from personal experience that we can’t always influence every aspect of our lives.
In his teachings, Epictetus argued that we must not get all worked up about things that are out of our control. This is only a waste of our energy. But neither should we give up and play the role of the victim. If we can’t control our circumstances, what we can control is the way we interpret them. This way we can rise to any challenge, and when confronted with setbacks, reframe them as opportunities to test and prove our inherent strengths.
Or as Epictetus himself would put it, if he were alive today: “It’s all good, guys. We got this.”
Tips to stick to our New Year’s Resolutions
1. Don’t try to achieve too much
We may want to lose weight, exercise regularly, learn a new language, and spend more time with friends and family. But that’s simply too much. Picking one or two of those things will make it easier to keep ourselves engaged longer. And then, there’s always next year to add fresh resolutions.
2. Set very specific goals
“Lose weight.” Sure, that’s a clear goal, but what does it actually imply? Are we talking 2 kilos? 7 kilos? Or 20 kilos? Quantifying the goal makes it measurable and attainable.
3. Keep track of the progress
Keeping a journal not only helps us set daily goals but also record our milestones and achievements, as well as reflect on our journey, and learn from the challenges.
4. Set reminders
Setting reminders on our calendar, phone, or computer is all about reminding us to take the necessary next step in our journey. Adding a motivational quote can offer inspiration and help reinforce our commitment.
5. Recruit a helper for support
Quitting smoking or losing weight is not easy. Leaning on a trusted person for encouragement or motivation when the going gets tough can help us go the distance. It’s easier and more fun.
6. Give the resolution time to turn into a habit
New routines don’t turn into habits from one day to the next. Who can forget how long it took them to learn to write, ride a bicycle, or drive a car? It takes patience to master anything, but at some point, even the hardest things can become second nature.
7. Make the resolution enjoyable
Joy and pleasure are great motivators. If our resolution is about an activity we care for and love, it will be so much easier to stick with it.
This New Year’s Resolution: better self-care for 2024
Self-care is essential to our overall health and sense of well-being and affects how we think, feel, and behave daily. By making a resolution to improve our quality of life, we send a powerful message to ourselves that we deserve all the love, care, and attention we can give to ourselves. And it all comes down to living a more natural life.
To learn more, check out our guide to 10 simple, daily practices for living more naturally.
Even after 4000 years, a New Year’s resolution continues to symbolize a new threshold. Let’s seize this opportunity and cross this threshold together. At Athonites, we’re excited and honored to make better self-care and living more naturally our shared resolution for 2024.