Well. Have you made one? A New Year resolution, that is. You’re in good company. Half of us will. That’s the good news. The bad is that less than 10 per cent will go on to achieve our goals.

The Babylonians started it about 4,000 years ago. Their new year started in March – as the new crops started sprouting. They crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to an existing one and made promises to the gods: to pay their debts and return any objects that they’d borrowed. (Looking at the gaps on my bookshelf, and the titles I don’t recall buying, I guess that still might be appropriate for some people….) If they kept their word, the Gods would bestow favour on them; if not disaster would befall. Enlightenment has robbed us of the incentive.

The Romans were always ready to take someone else’s idea and improve it. In about 46BC Julius Caesar decided to establish January 1st as the starting point for the new year. Named after their two-faced god, Janus (often found carved above doorways) the first of the month became a time for being two-faced looking backwards to the old year and forwards to the new. The Romans would make sacrifices to atone for their wrongdoing in the previous year and would promise good conduct for the future.

John Wesley attempted to give new year a Christian gloss in the mid 1700’s. In the early days of the industrial revolution towns and cities were filling up with workers; bereft of familiar support networks they provided fertile ground for religious revival. Wesley invented the Watchnight Covenant Renewal Service, at which the faithful to recall their conversion and recommit to it; they would spend the night in church rather than the tavern; praying rather than carousing.

Today, the only sacrifice we make is our sleep and integrity; the centuries old tradition continues as Big Ben’s chimes mark the end of the old year and the start of the new. Resolutions are now more likely to be about what we eat, drink and ‘lifestyle’ tweaks, appeasing the god of our own vanity.

Good Housekeeping advises us to “jump-start to a healthier body and mind” to “feel fantastic and so psyched to make 2020 your best year ever”; we, not the gods, are in control of our destiny. Tips to calm us down, ease our stress, help our skins glow and organize the ‘crazy in your life’. We make vows, not to the gods, not to our friends (to return those borrowed goods), not to improve the world in which we live, but to make us feel good about ourselves. Makes February a bit of a challenge when 90 per cent of us fail, but never mind – there’s always next year; only 364 days to go.

Whatever your resolution – good luck with it!