It’s almost that time of year again when we take stock of our lives and resolve to make a difference in the new year just about to begin.
The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions goes back centuries… as does the tradition of breaking them! The earliest New Year’s resolutions were in the form of promises to the gods. For example, Babylonians began each year by promising their gods that they would return borrowed objects and pay off their debts – in effect starting the year with a clean slate.
The Romans made similar promises to their god Janus, after whom the month of January is named, while Medieval knights had a tradition of ending the Christmas season by taking a vow which reaffirmed their commitment to chivalry. The very fact that it needed to be reaffirmed each year also suggests it might have ‘worn off’ as the year went on!
Many people still make resolutions to their gods, perhaps to live a more devout life or to attend church more often, but by the 20th century most people’s New Year’s resolutions were in the form of promises to themselves, or to their nearest and dearest.
Classic resolutions revolve around health – to lose weight, eat more healthily, take more exercise, drink less alcohol or quit smoking. These can also be the hardest to keep and the quickest to break, especially if they must begin on January 1st. New Year’s Day is still a time of celebration, when people’s homes are still filled with food and drink, and parties provide the ideal opportunity to slip almost before you start. Better to time this type of resolution for later in the month!
But apart from the obvious ones, what New Year resolutions might you make, and how can you make them stick? Let’s take a look at a few other common New Year’s resolutions:
- Spend less money: This is always going to be a popular one, especially after the financial drain of Christmas and the New Year sales! The best way to save money is a little and often. For example, switching to supermarket own brands, or taking sandwiches to work instead of buying something from a shop. Small savings, made regularly, soon add up.
- Get more sleep: Many of us don’t get enough sleep and there’s strong clinical evidence that persistent lack of sleep is bad for our health in all sorts of ways. Of course you can’t force yourself to sleep, but if you adopt a regular bedtime routine and stick to it you are more likely to succeed. There’s lots more advice available online about how to achieve quality sleep and the benefits it can bring.
- Learn a musical instrument: Being able to play a musical instrument is a source of great pleasure, but learning can be challenging, especially as you get older. Be realistic about your level of musical skill and choose what instrument you want to learn – some are easier than others and allow you to progress more quickly. Again the key to success is a little and often, making time to practise every day and keeping it fun. Having lessons will add structure to your learning and joining a beginners’ class will make it a more sociable activity.
- Get a pet: A pet can be a great companion, especially if you suffer from loneliness. Again, be realistic about what type of pet you can manage. A dog will need a walk every day, rain or shine, but some breeds require less exercise than others. Remember too that buying a pet is a commitment for the whole lifetime of the animal, and it can be expensive. A pet can be a source of great joy, but it’s not something to do on a whim.
- Watch less TV: If the TV is turning you into a couch potato, it could be time to be more selective with your viewing. Try to plan the things you really want to watch, rather than just watching whatever’s on. Make a conscious decision to only turn on the TV when there’s something you really want to see, then turn it off when it’s finished. And make sure you fill the time with something else, so boredom doesn’t drive you back to the remote control.
- Get a better job: If your job is really getting you down it could be time for a change. Online ‘jobfinder’ sites experience a huge surge in the New Year, but think hard before you leap. Could you make changes to improve the job you already have? Are you being realistic about what jobs you’re capable of doing? Will a job with more money also bring more stress and anxiety? Again, don’t do this on a whim, or you could find yourself making the same resolution again next year.
- Take up a new hobby: Having a new interest can certainly lift you out of a rut, but choosing the right hobby means you won’t waste valuable time and money. Think what you want from a hobby; is it something you want to do alone or with others? Do you want to try something completely new or revive an old interest? Is it just for pleasure or might you turn it into a moneyspinner?
Whatever resolution you make, you’re more likely to succeed if your goal is realistic and achievable. And don’t be too hard on yourself either. If your resolution slips a little, don’t abandon it altogether, just accept that nobody’s perfect, put it behind you and carry on making steady progress. Most resolutions are about changing your lifestyle, and that’s a gradual process that takes time. It won’t happen overnight on January 1st, though it’s as good a time as any to make a start.