Having stuffed ourselves silly with Christmas food (and often having a hand too often in the chocolate box) I always thought New Year Resolutions prompted promises to eat less. For others, it was promises to give up this, give up that, or do more of this or less of that……but it turns out the ancient Babylonians some 4,000 years ago were one step ahead of us, and were the first to hold recorded celebrations of the New Year, despite their year beginning in mid-March when crops were planted, and not in January at all.

During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their gods would bestow favours on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favour, obviously a place to be avoided at all costs. I guess these promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions.

In ancient Rome, Julius Caesar started tinkering with the calendar and decided the New Year should start on 1st January, which had a special significance for Romans. Named for Janus, the two-faced god - who symbolically looked backwards in time and forwards into the future, the Romans began offering sacrifices and promises of good conduct, to pave the way for the following year.

Self improvement

For early Christians, the first day of the New Year then became traditionally the time for thinking about past mistakes and resolving to do better. Most people make resolutions only to themselves, and to ways of self-improvement – which are much harder resolutions to follow! Of those who make a New Year's resolution, studies show that after 1 week 75 percent are still successful in keeping it. After two weeks, the number drops to 71 percent, and after 1 month, the number drops to 64 percent, while after 6 months, 46 percent of people who make a resolution are still successful in keeping it, which actually aren’t bad statistics, to my mind. In comparison, of those people who have similar goals but do not set a Resolution, only 4 percent are still successful after 6 months.

The reasons for failure are varied - in one 2014 study, 35 percent of participants who failed their New Year’s Resolutions said they had unrealistic goals, 33 percent didn’t keep track of their progress, 23 percent forgot all about their resolutions, and about one in 10 people who failed, said they made too many!

Why make them?

And their promises are varied – The most popular health-related resolutions at that time were losing weight and quitting smoking, followed by eating healthier foods, getting fit, managing stress, and drinking less alcohol.

But that dismal failure record probably won’t stop people from making resolutions anytime soon—after all, we’ve had about 4,000 years of practice.

So…how to be successful? Among other things, get plenty of sleep. According to a sleep expert and neurologist, sleep plays a major factor in the success (or failure) of the most popular New Year resolutions. For those trying to lose weight or eat healthier. Lack of sleep decreases leptin which is the hormone that makes you feel full, and also boosts the ‘hunger hormone’ which increases appetite, promotes fat storage, and causes poor food choices. Additionally, for those looking to quit smoking, a lack of sleep is tied to higher rates of nicotine dependence.

But most importantly, Change your timing. They say don’t necessarily wait for the new year to make a resolution - the success of a resolution that alters a habit can hinge on finding the right moment to make the change.

It was once said: There is nothing magical about the flip of the calendar, but it represents a clean break, a new hope, and a blank canvas. So whatever your choices, good luck with your Resolutions for 2023!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan