New Year’s Resolutions: only good for a laugh?

New Year resolutions goals 2020

New Year’s resolutions seem to take up a lot of airtime this time of year – every year.

I do not have to quote statistics to convince you that hardly more than a handful of people manage to make theirs last until the other side of Valentine’s Day.

A day like any other, not so?

Someone in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) thought it would be a great idea to celebrate the New Year as far back as 2000 BC. New Year used to be celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox in mid-March. The early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the first day of the year. The fact that the New Year once began with the month of March is still reflected in some of the names of the months. September through December, our ninth through twelfth months, were originally positioned as the seventh through tenth months. (Septem is Latin for ‘seven’; octo means ‘eight’; novem stands for ‘nine’; and decem, ‘ten’.) 

In pre-Christian Rome, the Julian calendar was used. It only contained 10 months. The first day of the year was dedicated to Janus, god of gateways and beginnings, in whose honour January was eventually named.

The early Christians instituted the Gregorian calendar and for them New Year’s Day marked the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus, which is still observed in the Anglican and Lutheran churches. However, it was only in 1582, that an extra 10 days were culled from the calendar and Pope Gregory XIII sanctioned the revised Gregorian calendar, most widely used today.

This reform also restored January 1 as New Year’s Day. Interestingly enough, not everybody liked it – particularly Protestant countries, such as the British Empire and its American colonies that only adopted this calendar in 1752. Up to this point, they still celebrated the New Year on March 25. In the Western Christian calendar this was known as ‘Lady Day’ or the day Mary was told by the archangel that she would give birth to Jesus. 

What do we learn from this?

I think the only thing we can learn from this is that humanity seems to imbue the end and the beginning of significant periods of time with greater significance than other times. As a species we seem to need to mark the passage of time. There is often a party involved. On the surface, there is no real difference between the 31st of December and the 1st of January. Both contain 24 hours, both contain a day followed by a night.

You might think that the only significance of the day lies in the fact that you officially get to hang up the 2020 calendar you bought at the SPCA or start doodling on the monthly blotter you were given by that pesky rep from the company who wants to buy your good graces. However, you might want to consider if this is a good time to dive a bit deeper into what it is that you need to mark as significant and consider planning for the next 365 revolutions around the sun.

1. Know your WHY and your why NOT.  The first part of the statement may seem obvious. I need to stop overspending, because it is bad for my credit record and the letters of demand make me hyperventilate. All good and well – but you know that, so why haven’t you stopped already? THIS is where the why NOT comes in. For every bad habit or behaviour we want to change there are reasons for why we are doing it in the first place.

This may take some thought – why do you do what you do? What purpose does it serve in your life? Does buying something shiny and new make you feel nurtured? Do you think buying your partner or kids a new gadget will show them you care when you cannot be there physically?

Stating a resolution in negative terms – I must stop can seem like a punishment. Rather rephrase it in terms of something aligned with your value system or priorities – I value and I will therefore .

2. Dream big. Audacious goals are compelling. According to efficiency specialists it also makes sense, particularly if you draw up a three-year plan. They say that we regularly overestimate what we are able to achieve in a year, however, rarely do so when considering three.

3. Now break big dreams into small-enough steps. Think tiny. Even if you have to break it down into larger chunks and then into ever smaller chunks. Consider sitting with your calendar when you do this.

You may want to use the SMART way of setting goals:

  1. Specific – where, what, how, when, with whom?
  2. Measurable – what will you see, feel, or hear when you reach your goal?
  3. Attainable – is the effort, time and resources worth the profit?
  4. Relevant – is this really what YOU want?
  5. Time-bound – can you plot a realistic, flexible timeline for outcomes and evaluation?

4. Don’t just think It, ink it!  A Stanford University study found that when people wrote down their goal, it increased the probability of them achieving it by over 70%. Now inspire action by making it visible – you can stick up reminders next to your bathroom mirror, at your desk, in your lunchbox or on your car dashboard!

5. Design your environment and commit yourself. Make yourself accountable through a written or verbal promise to people you don’t want to let down. Never underestimate the power of your environment to support or sabotage your success. Get rid of temptations (cut up your credit card!). Make lists and buy groceries in bulk, so that you minimise exposure to those sweet pastries in the bakery. Keep a tally of how much you saved, every time you resist an impulse buy – write it up! Adults also respond to star charts and a cheerleader or two!

6. Give yourself that proverbial star. Don’t wait to call yourself a winner until you’ve pounded through the last kilometer of your big dream marathon or lost every unwanted kilogram. Recognising and (responsibly!) celebrating small successes can help you stay on track. Just be conscious of the type of reward – you do not want to make debt, because you managed to pay off some! Spend some time thinking about what would constitute a reward that does not cost money to you.  

7. Forgive your failures – rather reframe them as lessons. Any time you fail to make a change, consider it a step toward your goal. Why? Because each sincere attempt represents a lesson learned. 

8. Give thanks for what you do. Gratitude for successes achieved, the fact that you have choices, opportunities to practice and can share victories can go a long way to enriching your life and shifting this experience from one of punishment and restriction to one of personal growth and exploration. Which of these do you prefer?

A last note on kissing the girl at midnight

According to English and German folklore, whomever you encountered first in the New Year would determine your destiny in the year to come. It is my hope that you will be able to keep your loved ones close, actively choose who you want to share your life with and work towards securing your own good fortune this year.

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