New Year’s Resolutions 1921 vs. 2021 (plus tips for success and shrugging off the naysayers)

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I haven’t recently but I might this year. Common resolutions these days usually include wellness (exercise, lose weight), personal effectiveness, quality of life, and achieving long term goals.

It’s interesting to see how new year’s resolutions have changed–and not changed–over the past 100 years.

Baby New Year with Father Time


9 New Year’s Resolutions from Birmingham, Alabama’s public officials:

  1. J. Hawkins, City Engineer: “To treat everyone with proper consideration with fairness, and to do my best.”
  2. Col. T. O. Smith, vice-president of the Birmingham Trust & Savings Bank: “Out of this period of hardship and suffering, I should like to see our people climb to a higher plane of thrift and conservation.”
  3. B. Smyer, Postmaster: “The first is that I have firmly and unequivocally determined to go on a real fishing trip soon. I will carry that resolution out within two weeks. To give the service the best that is in me as an official in maintaining the already high standard of the Birmingham post office.”
  4. George R. Stuart, pastor of the First Methodist Church: To deal honestly and fearlessly with sin in men and institutions, denouncing the wrong and defending the right with a kindly spirit, but in unmistakable terms.
  5. B. Leedy: “That we may grow younger every day and so conduct ourselves that old Peter will admit us.”
  6. V. Joseph: “Keep well, be prosperous and don’t worry.”
  7. B. Burton: “To make more homes happy with music.”
  8. S. Caheen: “To enjoy single blessedness for 12 months longer. But I do not know what may happen after that.”
  9. Fred H. McDuff, Chief of Police: “To make Birmingham a better and safer city to live in during 1922 than it was during 1921. I believe Birmingham can be made much better, even though it hasn’t been so bad in 1921.”

An Old Favorite

Some resolutions like “quitting smoking” have been always been popular. Looking at the papers from December 1921, I came across this sage advice from Don Davis, a world-weary 5th grader in Knoxville, Tennessee:


Bluebirds for Children 

Today, a growing number of people recognize the tremendous negativity the media and social media have wrought in our lives and society, and resolved to limit it or rid themselves–and especially their children–of it. Today, the bluebird symbol represents a platform that is closely correlated to low self-esteem, a sense of isolation, decreased critical thinking skills, and a rise in bullying and cruelty.

But in 1921, the Bluebirds were a children’s group, dedicated to helping little ones lead better lives. In January 1922, they published some of the best submissions. There were dozens but here are three examples that seem representative:


Tips for Success

There are ways to boost your chance for successful resolutions. Here are my tips for success!

  1. Make your goal realistic. Observe the difference between these two resolutions:

Walter sounds so much more reasonable, doesn’t he?  


2. Frame your goals in a way that feel doable (e.g., instead of “Lose 20 lbs this year”, try “Lose 1.6 lbs a month”) and track your progress.

  1. I rarely recommend books, but if you’re serious about making changes in your life, check out Maximize 365: a Year of Actionable Tips to Transform Your Life by Kristin Sherry. Each topic is one page, and contains ideas you can put into action right away to see immediate progress.

Defy the Pessimists! 

People who make New Year’s resolutions are usually optimists, and there’s nothing pessimists like more than to point out that new year’s resolutions have just a 12% success rate. Contributor Elsie Robinson had a few choice words for such people!

Care to share your new year’s resolutions and tips in the comments?