Stride into the New Year with new resolutions, new beginnings
“No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left.” ꟷ Charles Lamb
It is strange but true, every New Year brings new hopesꟷhopes that things are going to get better, hopes that all is not lost and with stars in our eyes and a spring in our step we embark on a renewed journey with renewed vigour. As the last minute of 31 December phases out and the countdown begins, there is a flutter of heart beats as in our psyche everything is to become miraculously newꟷall disappointments are to fade awayꟷfor ‘things are going to be different’ this New Year.
We begin a new journey every New Year with a set of resolutions to make things better and soon these resolutions become the talk of ‘our’ town. However, there is nothing new about New Year Resolutions. They have deep-rooted meanings as one delves into the annals of religious history.
New Year’s Day celebrations and resolutions, it is said began in the pre-Christian era, with the Babylonians. During their time the New Year started in March. It however was changed to January by the Romans, the month was named after the two-faced Roman God Janus, who was believed to be the patron and protector of arches, gates, doorways, endings, and beginnings. Janus is said to look backwards into the old year and forwards into the new.
While the Babylonians and Romans made promises to their Gods at the start of each year, in the medieval era at the end of the Christmas season the knights took the ‘peacock vow’ to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. In Charles Dickens’ journal All the Year Round, you will find the following linesꟷ“It was on this day when a solemn vow was made that the peacock became the great object of admiration… it always wore its full plumage… and before all the assembled chivalry… each made his vow to the bird.”
The practice of evaluating our lives at the end of one year as we begin a new year isn’t something modern thinkers can stake claim to. And despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year resolutions today are a mostly secular practice. Instead of making promises to the Gods, most people make resolutions only to themselves, and focus purely on self-improvement.
I spoke to some Sydney siders to get their views of New Year resolutions. Farida Lehri Barodawala, a homemaker, says she has made countless resolutions in the past and had given up making them as she failed to live up to her own resolutions. “But this year though, it’s different,” she says. “I’ve realised that a New Year resolution isn’t something you just decide upon, a few days before 31 December. For me it’s become a journey throughout the year, leading up to New Year’s Eve.” Farida aims to work on her own book and continue her journey back towards better health.
“Resolutions are supposed to help us achieve something and better ourselvesꟷnot to make us feel like a failure. Choose goals that are thought out and researched and constantly check yourself and your progress,” suggests Kala Philip, General Manager with Accredited Learning. She has adopted a logical approach to making and maintaining her resolutions. “While most people cling to the widespread belief that new habits can be formed in 21 days, new research is suggesting we need a longer timetable. One recent study found it took participants an average of 66 days to do something differentꟷand stick with it,” she says.
According to writer and radio jockey Shailja Chandra, “The human mind is hard-wired to find a sense of purpose, pride and prestige in our existence. These are like ‘coordinates’ that we create for finding the Mighty Mountain of Meaning. And I believe New Year Resolutions, amongst many others, become the ‘flag posts’ of this process.”
New Year resolutions are desires to immediately overcome certain habits that have possibly taken years to establish and turn a ‘new leaf’ in the shortest time possible. Change is good, and any change for the better is always perfectly legitimate. And resolutions that are all about making changes and improving one’s personality or one’s quality of life come in many forms. While someof us make a promise to develop a positive habit, such as starting an exercise program, volunteering in the community or recycling more, some others make a promise to change a bad habit, such as quitting smoking or eating less junk food.
But the key constant in this equation is ‘habit’. A habit is defined as a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behaviour that is acquired through frequent repetition. And while people may have spent a great deal of time establishing an unsavoury habit, most of them set out to overcome the problem in a day or two, thus setting themselves up for failure. Kala says that only about 8% of people achieve their New Year resolutions because they put toomuch pressure on themselves and don’t think about a plan of action.
“One of your best tools is to start earlyꟷthink of your resolutions now,” she says. Kala also follows simple tools to help her achieve her goals. “I write them down, I start early. I take one step at a time, and I establish a reward system. Finally, I have an accountability partner. Simply pairing up with anyone with similar objectives will provide key social support, as well as spur a little healthy competition,” says Kala.
Some would also argue that the mentality of waiting to address a certain problem at a point of the year is probably not the ideal situation and may set the person up to fail.It is not as easy as pressing the ‘reset’ button. To this Shailja comments, “Our desire for control and to influence our destiny today is as permanent as the impermanence and uncertainty of tomorrow. This is a heartbreaking paradox of humanity and at once important to motivate us to power on in life.”
Change or being in change is hard, no matter at what point on the calendar we start. And as change is uncomfortable and at times agonising, procrastination becomes an easy option. And unfortunately for those who do try to change, an accidental slip-up is sometimes deemed a colossal failure, instead of an opportunity to learn, grow and work further to succeed. It quickly becomes an excuse for the person to return to familiarity, to return to their ‘old’ ways.
There is another school of thought that presents the argument that the idea of bettering ourselves can be and often is a great motivator. “Most of us have a natural bent toward self-improvement,” says clinical psychologist John Duffy, author of ‘The Available Parent: Radical Optimism in Raising Teens and Tweens’. And even though the New Year is a random date, Duffy explains that it “gives us time and a goal date to prepare for the change, to fire up for the shifts we plan to make”.
Sonali Saxena, an operations manager, says, “When I started 2016, I had only one New Year’s resolutionꟷI will love, teach love and spread love. I think I have done a good job keeping that up. I have made new friends, started at a new job, and explored new places, all the while spreading love! The year goes quickly when you are happy and there is love all around you!”
My dear friend, Patricia Timms, who currently wears many hats, does not believe in New Year resolutions. “I feel claustrophobic by them and they tie me down. I don’t feel free in mind,” she says. Whilst this may hold true for Patricia, a chirpy Sonali excitedly quips “Another year is about to begin giving me a chance to write another chapter in my life!”
So, while New Year resolutions mean different things to different people and mean nothing to some people, there can never be a New Year without at least a talk about resolutionsꟷit could be an argument, a disagreement, a determination, or just plain indifference. But one thing is for sure, there is something magical about that word ‘New’ as it symbolises ‘Hope’ and the greatest attraction (or is it an illusion?) being the allure of beginning from scratch.
As for me 2016 has been full of challenges and changes. I do not make New Year resolutions and don’t recall ever making one! Yet, I like the idea of a New Year and restarting or resuming some unfinished projects and probably starting some new ones too.I have never been a planner, but one thing I know at this moment is that I am happy and would love to create many such moments for myself and for those around me. How about you? What are your plans for 2017? Any resolutions?
Promises to keep
The themes of New Year Resolutions are myriad
Being on the other side of 40 has made me realise that the agility and health I took for granted in my 30s will not last. So, I will start my 2017 looking after my physical health! I vow to continue to practice mindfulness and gratitude to keep my mental health on track.
ꟷ Sonali Saxena
I think I will quit sugar this yearꟷa resolution rolled-over from 2016! And more giving this year to those in need.
ꟷ Shailja Chandra
For me, it is looking at the past year and celebrating my achievements, but then looking at next year and raising the bar for me or focussing on an area of development that is a new one. After all, evolution requires lifelong learning.
ꟷ Kala Philip
My health and my writing are areas of my passion. I’ve been working on them since several months now, so that it’s become a habit! Hence my New Year’s resolution is to stick by this habit like a pesky housefly.
ꟷ Farida Lehri Barodawala
2017 is all about living by the flight of my pants, living free, living well and doing the best I am able to do.
– Patricia Timms