In one year and out the other. Why New Year Resolutions are a waste of time.
At the risk of seeming heretical at this time of the year, I’m not really a fan of New Year resolutions. To bring myself further into a tin-hat zone, I also wonder if the resolution process if for people who don’t make goals.
But never more so than in the middle of a global pandemic.
My experience is that if I vow before Christmas to lose 5 pounds after the party season is over, by January 1st the weight loss requirement has hit double digits. Next week I can say with certainty that my gym will be so rammed there’ll be no space in the car park, but can also say with equal certainty that by mid February I’ll be able to slip into a space right next to the door. We all make painfully superficial lists of minor things to work on or let go at this time of the year, but in the full knowledge that if we back slide it’s not that big of a deal.
History of New Year Resolutions
The Babylonians were early practitioners of SMART goal setting at new year to win favour with the gods, believing that failure to achieve their new year resolutions would bring bad luck. They therefore chose wisely: something realistic and achievable. It was also the time they returned borrowed equipment – thus making good old debts. They celebrated their new year on the first new moon after the Vernal (Spring ) equinox, which without appearing too reactionary, seems to make a lot more sense to me some 4000 years later, conjuring up as it does images of growth, re-birth and optimism.
The beginning of a new year has for thousands of years been a time when people have made commitments to review the past and make changes for the future. But historically the timing of this festival has been flexible and quite arbitrary, having been been moved around over the centuries, mainly for political or religious convenience. The Chinese New Year based on a lunar calendar, can be any time from mid January to mid February. The Romans originally celebrated New Year on March 1st, moved it again to March 25th, but in 46 BC Julius Caesar then saw fit reform the calendar to better reflect the seasons, shifting it again to January 1st.
At the same time he honoured the two-faced god Janus, the god of doors and entrances, who could look backward into the old year and forward into the new, which has become the modern metaphor for endings and beginnings. There was no astrological or agricultural significance for this. During the Middle Ages, Christian powers attempted to remove pagan Roman traditions from the calendar and new year and Christmas traditions became blurred until the sixteenth century, when Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar and the new year was once again celebrated on January 1st.How about Spring resolutions?
I’m tempted to think that our ancient ancestors who thought up the concept of new year resolutions would have had a greater chance of success with spring resolutions, or even summer solstice resolutions. They’re just simply sunnier, brighter months. January for me is not actually a great time. In my part of the world it’s cold, dark and faintly miserable, which is perhaps why celebrations at this time have been associated with driving out metaphoric demons (modern-day bad habits?) with fireworks and cymbals. Or perhaps I’m just a Babylonian or ancient Roman at heart.
Make it meaningful
But basically, whatever the time of the year, we all know that if a goal has any real meaning it shouldn’t be postponed until some conveniently notional cut off point at the beginning of the year, only to feel temporarily wracked with guilt before we predictably relapse into our comfort zone some time at the end of January.
No substitute for now
I never exhort anyone to implement any special job search or career strategies specifically to start on January 1st. Why? Goal setting should be ongoing. You wouldn’t need to start anything on 01.01 because you probably shouldn’t have stopped in the first place! If you need to change those goals on February 1st (Chinese New Year 2022) or the Spring equinox – it is not going to make the slightest bit of difference. There is no need either to wait 11 months until 2023 to review the situation. We all know that. We also know that the best time is not then, but now.
Yet to follow our ancestors it’s always a good idea to generate some positive energy at any time, but with no built-in guilt trip for failing to implement, especially during the dark month of January, when there is not a cymbal in sight to ward off those demons. So here’s what I suggest:
The 3 “S” Formula
🎯 SMILE in the spirit of Burn’s “cup of kindness”., at one total stranger, at least , a day (without appearing weird and risking arrest of course). Do you ever notice when you’re walking down busy streets how few people make eye contact, let alone smile. Smiling makes us all feel good, especially in January.
🎯 SUCCESS – record your successes. Create a recognition record. We are very often our own harshest critics. So when you have achievements no matter how small – write them down somewhere in a little “Success Book” and look at them from time to time. Appreciate yourself, the people around you and what you already have and do well. Instead of focusing on our demons ( bad habits) – accentuate the positive.
🎯 SET and review your goals regularly. Give yourself a timeframe. Reflect on what has gone on. Don’t worry about special dates – they don’t matter. What matters is they are ongoing and you are active in the process not tomorrow, next month or next week … but today.
As the old joke goes “don’t let your new year be the new start for old habits”.
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Originally published in 2010. Updated December 2021