January 3, 2013

My New Year’s Resolution

Schricker,-Mary-Dec2010By Mary Schricker Gemberling

“Dear Lord,
So far this year, I’ve done well! I haven’t gossiped; I haven’t lost my temper; I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, selfish, or overindulgent. I’m very thankful for that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on I’m probably going to need a lot more help with my New Year’s resolutions.” Anonymous

It’s that time again! Time to decide how we are going to be thinner, healthier, more active, kinder, more generous, and overall a better person than we were in 2012. What prompts this sudden urge to make all of these promises or declarations in this particular month? Is it our overindulgence of eating and spending in December that make us feel guilty? Is it the feeling that because it is the beginning of the year, it is time for our own “new beginnings?” Well, you might be surprised to know that making New Year Resolutions is not a new tradition.

It dates back 4,000 years ago to the ancient Babylonians, who in March promised their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans changed it to January in honor of Janus, the two- headed god who looks backwards into the old year and forward into the new. Janus was also the patron and protector of arches, gates, doorways, ending and beginnings. The ancient Romans began each year by making promises to the god of Janus, for whom the month of January is named. And in the medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. At watch night services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions. There are other religious parallels to this tradition. During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness.

New Year Day is not January first in all cultures and countries. Regardless of the specific date, there are good luck rituals around the world to bring good fortune and prosperity. In Sicily, good luck will come to those who eat lasagna on New Year Day, but he who dines on any other kind of noodle will have bad luck throughout the year. In Wales, at the first toll of midnight, the back door is opened and then shut to release the old year and lock out all of its bad luck. In Spain, when the clock strikes midnight, the Spanish eat 12 grapes, one with every toll of the bell to bring good luck for the 12 months ahead.

The tradition of breaking our New Year resolution is just as old as the origin itself. Over the years, the number of people making resolutions and keeping them, have both diminished drastically. Surveys indicate that only about 40 to 45 percent of American adults make one or more New Year resolutions. At the onset about 52 percent are confident of success. One year later, only 12 percent actually achieved their goal. The most popular promises among those who do declare them are: to get in shape and/or lose weight; get more organized; give up smoking/ drinking; spend less /pay down debt; spend more time/money on others. Lofty goals for any of us!!

If you are focused on making a New Year Resolution, there are certain things you can do to optimize your success.

• Make only one Resolution – Many people make the mistake of trying to achieve too much.
The chances of success are greater when people channel their energy into changing just one aspect of their behavior.

• Plan ahead – Take some time to reflect upon what you really want to achieve.

• Avoid previous resolutions – Deciding to re-visit a past resolution sets you up for frustration and disappointment. Choose something new or approach an old problem in a new way.

• Be specific – Think through exactly what you are going to do and where you are going to do it. For example, instead of saying you will go to the gym two days a week, say you will go on Tuesday and Thursday each week.

I have to admit, I’ve never been one to put too much effort into making or keeping New Year resolutions. I have always been pretty goal orientated and tried to make necessary changes as the need presented itself. Oh, don’t get me wrong, in a perfect world I would love to be 10 pounds thinner, more altruistic, and a bit more organized especially when it comes to sending birthday cards to friends and family. But, I’ve also reached that time in my life when I know that it’s much more purposeful to be thankful and appreciative of what we are blessed with rather than wishing for more. So, I guess my New Year resolution, if I made one, would be that you, the readers, are blessed with healthy days, good fortune and much happiness in 2013.

Mary Schricker Gemberling, former educator and Seniors Real Estate Specialist, is the author of two books: The West End Kid and Labor of Love.