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Reflections January 2019

Resolutions: Then, Now, Always

By K. F. Donahue

The god Janus gracing arches and doorways had special symbolical significance to the Romans particularly in January with one face looking back into the old year and with the other face looking forward into the year ahead. Of course the ancient Romans celebrated and also made promises of good behavior to their deity.

Pledging to keep good intentions for ourselves and for others are, after all, exactly what resolutions – New Year’s resolutions in particular, are all about. This tradition of making promises to oneself is not new to humanity if we take a brief look at the past.

As far as history reveals, the ancient Babylonians about 4,000 years ago were the first to
celebrate each year and to make New Year’s resolutions which most often included returning borrowed farm equipment since their new year coincided with the planting of crops in mid-March. A 12-day festival also ensued when subjects pledged allegiance to their king, and promised to pay all debts in addition to return all borrowed items. If these promises were kept, the pagan gods would bestow blessings upon them.

It wasn’t until the Roman emperor Julius Caesar decided to change the calendar to coincide with the sun that there was to be a year beginning on January 1st. The god Janus gracing arches and doorways had special symbolical significance to the Romans particularly in January with one face looking back into the old year and with the other face looking forward into the year ahead. Of course the ancient Romans celebrated and also made promises of good behavior to their deity.

Over time the early Christians regarded January 1st as a time of reflection upon the past year’s transgressions and of declaration to do better in the upcoming year. The tradition of a renewal night (New Year’s Eve) began in the 1700s with religious readings, hymns, and making resolutions and is still a continued activity in several evangelical Christian denominations today.

So here we are in the modern world where New Year’s celebrations are mostly secular and promises are made to ourselves primarily for self-improvement. Several days, weeks or several months after our own resolutions have been made they are broken. Perhaps we need to look at the reason why this happens.

Instead of focusing upon a huge, realistically unattainable goal to correct what we see as a negative – “I’m going to lose 40 lbs” or “I’m going to exercise for an hour at the gym every single day” – we need to be positive and we need to celebrate the small victories. Look to the past, look to the present and look to the future for your inspiration for your resolutions.

Is there an activity that you used to love but haven’t taken part in lately? A realistic resolution would be to give it a go and if you physically can no longer perform then adapt. Can’t run? Then walk. Add the resolve to be more mindful, to enjoy every moment. Remember those childhood days of walking barefoot, skipping in the rain, catching snowflakes on your tongue, or star-gazing after sunset? Resolve to do something simple even if it’s just once this year.

Is there a skill that you want to learn or try out? Surely some of us would love to dance but realistically we won’t ever be competing on “Dancing with the Stars.” Remember to adapt. So give line dancing a try – work your feet and your mind. And speaking of your mind maybe you would like to try a strategy game (chess) or a language (sign language) or a new sport (pickleball) or to further your education (auditing classes).

Is there something on your bucket list that you can do this year? Does it take some planning? Want to take a road trip? Perhaps you have always wanted to skydive or hang glide or ride a hot air balloon or scuba dive – all of which can be done tandem!

Perhaps your bucket list is a bit more down to earth with a resolve to mentor a child in a local school, or to volunteer with a local ecological program in a cleanup program, or to perform random acts of kindness quietly/anonymously or merely to express gratitude to someone for a job well done.

So as we see it, resolutions simply need to be positive, realistic and easily attainable. Resolutions don’t need to be merely January 1st promises. After all, the Babylonians made theirs in mid-March. We can reset our goals anytime – a holiday, a birthday, a season. Don’t abandon this wonderful tradition but adapt your intentions and definitely celebrate the small successes.

Happy New Year!