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Making Achievable New Year Resolutions

On December 31st did you, perhaps in an altered state, solemnly resolve, affirm, or swear that you would make positive changes in 2022? Last year 43 percent of Americans vowed to change in 2021; this year only 29 percent expected to take the plunge. Of those making new year’s resolutions, 80 percent will either fail or give up by the beginning of February.

Illustration of person doing crushes

The Most Common Resolutions Are a list of “I shoulds

Health and lifestyle industries enthusiastically support: I should exercise more and I should lose weight.

There’s also I should get organized, and buy bins and boxes at the local container or office outlet.

1930s travel poster for Japan

[Note: I should work more doesn’t appear on anyone’s list, yet that’s what most of us will probably try to do.]

I should travel somewhere, anywhere after such a long time in pandemic lockdown. I should read more or learn a new skill, or save money. I should spend more time with my family and friends.

My favorite unachievable new year resolution: I should live life to the fullest. Whatever that means. But it sounds good. And that’s the problem with most of our annual goals. They have no substance.

Resolutions of New Year’s Past

Babylonian lion

This annual struggle is at least 4,000 years old. Ancient Babylonians celebrated the new year in March as a sort of springtime festival. During the 12-day Akitu Festival, Babylonians promised the gods that they would repay their debts and return any borrowed items to their owner. They paraded their gods through the streets from Marduk’s Gate to Ishtar’s Gate and the Akitu Temple. The old chaotic world would be cleansed and the gods would create a new one for the new year.


As the Roman Empire declined, early Christians thought the first month of the new year was a time to reflect on past mistakes and/or sins, and resolve to make spiritual and personal improvements.

Puritan men at the pub

The Puritans refined this approach. They condemned all end of the year celebrations as pagan indulgence, and even went so far as to re-name January [named for the 2-headed god Janus] First Month. Puritans took self-reflection to a new level in the hope God would look kindly upon them. Popular resolutions were to treat neighbors with charity, avoid sins, work for peaceful relations, and to always speak clearly and simply. Of course, part of being a Puritan is that no matter how hard you try to be good, you still sin.

Medieval feast with peacock

My favorite historical commitment is the Peacock Vow taken by medieval knights during the last feast of Christmas, presumably on 12th Night. Servers brought in a roasted peacock re-dressed in its avian finery. One-by-One, each knight put his hand on the festive bird and recommitted himself to his chivalric vows.

This Year, Try SMART GOALS

If you made New Year’s goals but find yourself slacking already, perhaps you need to revisit them using the SMART method. SMART GOALS are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Notice the word should isn’t one of the items. Many resolutions fall by the wayside, because the person making them didn’t actually want the goal. 

So, let’s use an example: Weather permitting, this year I will walk for half an hour, 5 days a week.

figure walking
  • Walking half an hour, 5 days a week, is SPECIFIC.
  • By making a note on my calendar each time I walk, the goal is MEASURABLE.
  • In comparison to running a half-marathon, walking half an hour 5 days weekly is ACHIEVABLE.
emoji winking
  • Given my schedule and general weather conditions, walking is REALISTIC.
  • Walking is definitely TIMELY.

And if some weeks I don’t walk at all. That’s okay. Sometimes it rains.

You can set and re-set goals anytime, as long as you have the desire to achieve them. If not, even SMART GOALS won’t work.

🤸🏻‍♀️ 🤾🏻‍♂️ 🤾🏻‍♀️ 🏄‍♀️ 🤽🏻‍♀️


Happy New Year 2022 by Arghamalick5151

Crunch exercise by Pk0001

1930s Japan Travel Poster

Babylonian Lion Passant, about 7th century BCE


Puritans Drinking from Pewter Mugs. 19th century.

Roasted Peacock with Feathers. 15th century.

Goal Setting by Author

Person Walking

Winking Gnome Attribution: GNOME Project

Fred Backus. “Fewer Americans are making New Year’s resolutions This Year.” CBSNews. Dec. 31, 2021.

Tony Bryant. “New Year’s Resolutions.” Sur in English. Dec. 27, 2021.

Ashley Stahl. “This New Year’s Set Goals.” Forbes. Dec. 9, 2021.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


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