According to the History Channel, ancient Babylonians were the first group of people to make New Year’s resolutions, starting around 4,000 years ago. Their resolutions consisted of promising their gods that they would repay debts and return borrowed items. The belief was that if they kept these promises, the gods would favor them throughout the year.
Later, the ancient Romans had similar traditions, after Julius Cesar set January 1st as the beginning of the new year. The month January was named after the two faced god Janus, who looks both forward and backward. As part of their New Years celebrations, Romans would make sacrifices to Janus and promise to be good citizens.
Early Christians also celebrated New Years by looking at past mistakes and resolving to do better in the year ahead.
These days, many people around the world participate in making New Year’s resolutions, regardless of their religion. Often, contemporary resolutions involve bettering oneself in some way, shape, or form, usually through changed behavior. However, while studies vary on how successful people are, they tend agree that more than 50% of people fail to keep their resolutions. So we might start the year with good intentions, but we often fall short.
While many people fail to keep their resolutions, there are some steps that tend to lead to greater success. The first is to set goals that are focused and specific. This means, instead of saying something general like “be healthier”, focus on something specific such as “eat an additional serving of vegetables at dinner”. Instead of resolving to “exercise more”, make a specific resolution to “add an additional 20 minutes of cardio each week”. Now, many New Year’s resolutions here in the United States are focused on health. We are using some common health related resolutions here, but we want to be clear that “healthy” is different for everyone and this should be factored into any resolution you choose to make.
Another way to help is to set interim goals. If you have a goal to “lose weight”, you might have an end goal to “lose 20 lbs.”. However, if you have all year to achieve this goal, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to achieve this far off goal. Having an interim goal such as “lose 10 lbs. by July” or structured goals such as “lose 1.5 lbs. per month” can help keep you on track to achieve your larger resolution.
Research also suggests that having social support can help you reach your goals. This doesn’t necessarily mean having someone with the same goals as you working with you to achieve both your resolutions. Rather, it means having someone to report your progress and success to. Especially with resolutions focused on self improvement, it’s easy to give up because there is no one to hold us accountable except ourselves. Having someone else to support you and hold you accountable can increase your motivation and you can also discuss what progress and success look like.
The research mentioned here is from a scientific paper published in PLoSOne called “A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals”.
Now, how do New Year’s resolutions tie into the mission and vision of the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center? While many resolutions tend to be oriented towards health or relationships, it is possible to make environmentally oriented resolutions as well.
These might include resolutions like “use less single-use plastic”, “recycle more”, “make less trash”, or “participate in more trash clean ups”. We urge you to consider adding one environmentally related resolution to your list this year.
And now that we’ve shared some ways to be more successful with resolutions, you can also be more specific about your resolution. If you’d like to reduce your use of single use plastic, a specific goal might be “order carryout one less time per month” or “bring my own containers for leftovers when I eat out”. If your resolution is to make less trash, you might explore specific ways to do this, such as “start composting” or “create weekly meal plans” to reduce food waste or “always bring a reusable coffee cup when I go to Rise Up”. Think about your larger goal and then come up with a specific action or actions to help you achieve that goal.
You may also want to have a New Year’s resolution to bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store. This is especially important in light of the plastic bag ban that goes into effect in Easton, MD on April 2nd, 2023 and in Salisbury, MD on July 1st, 2023. We’ll have more on the Easton ban in a later edition of the Heron Herald but if you’re not already bringing your own bags, this is a good resolution to help you prepare.
So what is your environmental New Year’s resolution? Feel free to share in the comments below!