SAFS #3: What’s the Deal With New Years’ Resolutions?

One of the arguments used to defend the legitimacy of a belief or practice is called the appeal to tradition.  This is a view that something must have existed for a long time to be valid. This stance comes up when examining faiths outside of the "mainstream culture," such as Wicca and modern forms of Paganism. However, does this argument of appealing to tradition hold up when looking at Christmas?

In this episode, we'll examine how the celebration of Christmas has changed from its earliest roots to its modern form.  What does the evolution of Christmas over the past nearly two millennia say when it comes to current attempts to revitalize earth-based religions? Is older necessarily better? And how much influence is okay before a belief system is seen as deviating too far from its core? 

Listen to This Week's Episode:

[0:00:00] Introduction
[00:01:0] Opening Credits
[00:01:54] Greetings and Overview
[00:02:47] The Origin of New Years' Resolutions
[00:04:17] Do New Years' Resolutions Work?
[00:08:23] The Problem with New Years' Resolutions
[00:09:49] Making Heart-Centered Resolutions
[00:12:52] Call for Listener Feedback
[00:13:31] Future Episodes
[00:13:58] Closing Credits

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What We Cover in This Episode

  • The origins of New Years' Resolutions - and why the new year begins on January 1st
  • Studies and statistics regarding New Years' resolutions
  • Why we are drawn to setting goals the first day of the year
  • Challenges to setting meaningful goals
  • Steps to take to create heart-centered resolutions for yourself for the coming year

Podcast Transcript (toggle to show/hide)

The tradition of New Years' resolutions has been around for almost four thousand years, and each year millions of people make resolutions in the spirit of self-improvement or to break free from bad habits. But are New Years' resolutions effective? What does establishing these resolutions say about our society and ourselves?

Today's episode explores the good, bad, and ugly of making New Year's resolutions. We'll look at the history of these traditions, review some exciting statistics about new years' resolutions, and explore the downsides of making such resolutions. We'll also teach you how to make heart-centered resolutions to set yourself up for success in 2023 - assuming you're ready to make such commitments! So grab a cup of coffee, settle into your favorite spot, and get prepared for this episode of Spiritual AF Sundays: What's the Deal with New Years' Resolutions?


[Opening clip]

You're listening to Spiritual AF Sundays, created and hosted by The Mystic Geek. If you're looking to explore intriguing questions about the meaning of life and our place in the universe, then you're in the right spot. 

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Ready to grow and explore in your spiritual journey? We're glad you can join us. It's time to start your week off by being spiritual AF.

[End Opening Clip]


Welcome back, listeners. You’re listening to Jessica Karels, The Mystic Geek, and we are talking about New Years' Resolutions today. 

We make these annual pledges with high hopes that this year will be different and better than last year. But what is it about these resolutions that keep us coming back to them each year? 

Let's explore their origins – from ancient Babylon onward, and how they've shaped our modern-day practice. We'll also look at fascinating statistics about our commitment to making resolutions. 

Since we don't live in individual bubbles, we'll also discuss how resolutions impact society and how they can sometimes emphasize personal culpability rather than looking at more significant systemic issues. 

Finally, we'll guide you through a process for creating heart-centered resolutions that set you up for success in the New Year. So sit back and relax: it's time to get Spiritual AF about New Years' resolutions!


The History of New Year's Resolutions

According to, the New Years' Resolutions tradition started in Ancient Babylon approximately four thousand years ago. As an agricultural society, Babylonians started their new years' celebrations in mid-March with a twelve-day religious festival known as Akitu. During this time, they would make promises to the gods in hopes of a good harvest and a successful future. 

How did New Years' move from mid-March to January 1st? You can thank Julius Caesar for making that change in 46 B.C. Perhaps Caesar sought to stack the deck in his favor by aligning the new year with the god Janus - the two-faced god who looks back into the past and forward into the future. People took action that day to set the direction for the new year; they connected with friends and exchanged gifts. So much for procrastination! 


New Years' Resolutions in the Modern Age

Fast forward to the present day, and we can see that New Year's resolutions are essential to our culture. According to YouGov America,  23% percent of all Americans they surveyed made at least one New Years' resolution for 2020 - ranging from lifestyle changes like committing to exercise more (46%) and eating healthier (45%) to finance-related goals like pursuing a career ambition (19%) and saving more money (31%). 

How successful are we? In another poll, 35% of participants who made New Year's resolutions for 2020 reported that they kept all of their New Year's resolutions, and 49% kept at least one. The Scranton researchers found that only 19% of those who resolved maintained that goal for over two years.


The Science of New Years' Resolutions

Why are we drawn to making New Year's resolutions year after year - even though we could be more successful in achieving them? According to Psychology Compass, humans feel motivated to resetting from the past. There's even a term for this: the fresh start effect. When we seek to change our behavior, we see the first day of a timeframe as an activating trigger to commit. These thresholds could be the first day of the week, the first day of the month - or the first day of the first month of a new year!

Katherine Milkman, professor of psychology at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, conducted multiple studies on the impact of the "fresh start effect." Subjects established New Year's resolutions in one experiment and opted for periodic email reminders. Milkman sent some test subjects an email highlighting March 20th as the "first day of spring," The other participants received an email labeling that day as the "Third Thursday of March." The first group was more likely to start, or restart, their goals. 

Timing the start of your goal with a symbolic fresh start can be an effective way to commit. However, we need time when we start our goals with our internal readiness for change, not just with the external symbolic triggers in our environment. According to the transtheoretical model for change,  there are five stages that we go through when making a change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. 

The pre-contemplation stage occurs before an individual realizes their behavior needs to change. Preparation involves concrete steps for making changes, such as creating a plan or setting realistic goals. Action is when an individual actively works towards their goal, and maintenance is when the individual adopts a new behavior. 

Why is this important? Few of us time our goals so that the action stage lines up with the new year. We often jump from the contemplation to the action stage without any preparation, leaving us ill-equipped to handle potential pitfalls. We might skip the contemplation stage and make resolutions based on social pressure.

When structuring your New Year's resolution, it is essential to consider whether to frame a goal as an approach-based or avoidance-based strategy. This framing will directly influence how successful you are in achieving your aspirations. An avoidance-based goal focuses on removing something from your life, such as spending less or eating certain foods. In contrast, an approach-based goal emphasizes adding something to your life, such as reading more books. How significant is this distinction? Carlbring, a researcher from Stockholm University, monitored the progress of 1,066 individuals who set New Years' resolutions at the end of 2017. Amazingly, he found that those who planned approach-based goals had an average success rate of 25% higher than those with avoidance-based ones! Rather than setting resolutions to remove something from our lives, we should focus on what we can add.

Critiquing this New Years’ Tradition

Due to some of the problems with the current approach to New Year's resolutions, some people are rejecting the concept altogether.

Critics are also quick to point out how we typically frame resolutions from a perception of brokenness, with the solution being to fix ourselves and spend time and money on the effort. They claim that the end goal of such self-improvement-based resolutions is to become more acceptable to society by more closely aligning with what is considered normal or desired or by becoming more productive.

For instance, they call out how wellness-based resolutions, born of society's views of what is considered "healthy,"  are mostly unattainable and can lead to failure, leading to self-loathing rather than growth. 

Looking at the data around New Years' resolutions, it is easy to notice the cultural messaging that frames change as an individual, personal responsibility. 

Further, the self-improvement nature of resolutions implies that we are somehow broken and need to fix ourselves. We tell ourselves we don't exercise enough, eat healthy enough, and aren't where we should be with our careers or checking accounts. 

In other words, we blame ourselves and then punish ourselves after an extended period of decadence - the holiday season - by tightening the reins and setting strict resolutions. 

In reality, many more significant systemic factors often contribute to our failings, such as a lack of access or knowledge. 


A Heart-Centered Approach to New Year's Resolutions

My thoughts? You do you. If making New Year's resolutions fits your personality and inspires you, then go for it! But if not, try a different approach.

Rather than reject New Year's resolutions altogether, it is possible to use this time as an opportunity for personal growth. The key is to set goals aligned with your values and focus on the process rather than the end goal. 

First and foremost, be kind to yourself: give yourself permission to make mistakes and appreciate how far you have come. It is essential to focus on the present moment and take stock of your successes, no matter how small.

Use this moment to reflect on what matters most to you now and in the future. Consider creating a list of core values that can guide you. If you need help with this step, I have a free resource on my website.

When it comes to the goals themselves, focus on setting realistic targets and breaking them down into smaller achievable steps. This process is essential if the goal requires significant change, such as exercising more. Also, try to make the goal enjoyable. If you are a person who enjoys competition, signing up for a race or a challenge could be motivating.

It is crucial to have an accountability system and reach out for support from friends or family if needed. If you're concerned that they may not be able to motivate you or need accountability from outside your immediate social sphere, a coach or mentor may be a great option. 

It is also helpful to track your progress to keep yourself motivated. When we lose ourselves in our everyday grind, it is easy to forget how far we have come. Tracking our progress can be incredibly motivating. Many apps show your results over time using charts or graphs.

Remember to celebrate your successes along the way! We are prone to overlooking the small wins in our lives, so take the time to recognize your progress and celebrate it with loved ones. 

Finally, remember that we are social and spiritual creatures, meaning we often find purpose when connected to something larger than ourselves. Consider how your goals can bring meaning and help you connect with others. Read articles and books, or listen to podcasts that cover the need for societal change. Pledge to keep tabs on current events. Find time to volunteer and give back to those in your community. 

Ha, there's one more that I remembered just now; if New Years' feels like the wrong time to set a new goal for yourself, don't feel obligated to do so. You must listen to your intuition and pick the right time for yourself. If you're witchy like me, you might time your goals with the moon cycle, solstice, or equinox. 

Remember that self-compassion is vital regardless of how you approach New Year's resolutions. If you believe in yourself, you are capable of anything, so set your heart on a goal and trust the process! Listen to your inner voice, and you will be amazed by what you can accomplish. 

I hope these tips help you craft meaningful New Year's resolutions (if you choose to make them)! 


Share Your Views With Us

I'll throw it back at you, dear listeners. Do you make New Years' resolutions, and if so, do you find them beneficial? Do you believe that New Year resolutions are okay for others to create and adhere to, or do you think the whole concept is BS and we should eliminate them? We'd like to hear from you.

There are two ways that you can reach out. Email me at, or you can leave me a voice message at With that, we're going to wrap up today's episode on the appeal to tradition. Join us next week, on January 8th, as we will discuss the concepts of rest and action and the need to find a balance between them. Two weeks from now, on January 15th, we're talking about the myths of self-care. If you have topics you want me to explore and discuss, please reach out with that.

Have fun, stay safe, and here's to a fantastic 2023.

[Podcast Outro]

Thank you for joining us for Spiritual AF Sundays. 

This show is hosted by The Mystic Geek; that's me! 

Got comments or questions from today's episode? You can either email me at, or send me a voice message at Don't worry. I'll put the link in the show notes. 

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