I used to envy people who made New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve come to accept that’s simply not me. Linking personal improvement to changing calendars no more insures I’ll stick to the plan than a false deadline would (think fiscal cliff). My best chances for follow-through come when motivation is strong. Case in point: it’s the first weekend in January and my plans to begin a blog on New Year’s Day are now underway. Had it been a resolution, I’d already be falling behind.
Like so many, I want to read more, write more, lose weight and spend more quality time with friends and family. But if making resolutions on New Year’s Day were even half as effective as pledges made any other day of the year, I would have been a millionaire at age 30 and have a series of best-sellers on the market today. So I’ve learned to accept myself unconditionally, for this much I know: resolutions, like birthday piñatas, were made to be broken.
Instead, I choose to begin the new year by building a gratitude list, or as my mother would call, “counting my blessings.”
Several years ago, we were carrying significant debt that was keeping me awake at night. One June morning, after we’d determined there would be no resources for a vacation that summer, I drafted a plan to pull us out of the hole and left for work with a promise on my lips to begin that very day. Waiting half a year, until January when we were struggling with holiday debt, would have prolonged our agony. Instead of making resolutions that year, I chose to build a gratitude list, beginning with the progress we’d made on our goal to reduce our debt and improve our financial health.
If you consider that making resolutions is a way of incorporating hope in our lives, it makes perfect sense to start with the good that already exists. Since the holidays began, online and television sources have bombarded us with ideas on how to lose weight and enjoy better health in the new year. These are admirable goals. But before I decide what to do differently in 2013, I must start by giving thanks for the relatively good health I enjoy and the simple fact that I was able to toast the New Year with friends and family. Having said good-bye to several acquaintances far too early this past year, it’s hard to be upset about the extra ten pounds that kept me from wearing my favorite skirt on New Year’s Eve. “Be careful what you wish for,” my mother also says.
Gratitude lists compel us to examine our lives with a critical eye and identify the good instead of focusing on what we think is lacking. It’s easy for me give thanks that my husband survived his third heart attack this year and that my daughter successfully completed her college degree. It’s a little harder to be grateful that a new home is being constructed across the road, blocking our view of the southern sky after twenty years of privacy at our country home. But when I consider that a lovely young couple will be moving in this spring, and reflect on options the new land owner might have chosen – a strip mall or low-cost housing subdivision, for starters – gratitude is an easy choice.
Certainly the ancient Babylonians had good intentions when they introduced the world to the idea of making new year’s resolutions. When they broke out a new clay calendar, Babylonians resolved to please their gods (and, presumably, their creditors) by returning borrowed items and repaying debts. Some were probably grateful to their gods for the means by which they were able to repay those debts. Similarly, today’s financial experts suggest we resolve to pay off credit card debts in 2013 and step up our retirement savings. I receive daily e-mails from a national home improvement chain urging new year’s resolutions that involve updating and beautifying our home. Re-painting rooms and replacing door handles may happen this year, but only after I’ve dutifully recorded my gratitude for our warm, loving, mid-century home with its outdated fixtures and odd configurations, along with the working computer with Internet service that brings me fodder to turn daydreams into reality.
Picking a date on the calendar to make resolutions fulfills our innate need for traditions, but I prefer to make them when the need presents itself, not because it’s the start of a new year. Resetting my internal compass comes naturally if I’m in tune with what is happening around me, the needs of others and of my community. When I’m listening to my body and know it’s time to hit the treadmill, lay off the desserts, and drink a calming cup of chamomile tea, there is a much better chance of success than if I resolve on January 1 to do these things daily.
And when are grateful for what we have, the path is cleared to pay forward the blessings we enjoy, and simply to be ourselves. With that my gratitude list begins, along with pens, paper and tape to build a scroll, Babylon-style. No false deadlines here.
Nancy M. Garber
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