It’s that time of the year again when Christmas is over and New Year’s is on the horizon. The symbol of the new year, of renewal, means the setting of New Year’s resolutions for many people. Whilst I’ve always been aware of the tradition I have never actively taken part in it myself. I’ve not avoided the tradition, or opted out for any specific reason. It’s just never something my family or myself did growing up.
This year has felt ground breaking for many reasons. Not least persevering with my blog and taking part in the wonderful blog community I have found online. This, more than anything else, has made me want to mark the past year in some way. I want to take stock of where I’ve been but also where I’m (hopefully) going. And that starts here, with this post.
Where Do New Year’s Resolutions Come From?
The root of New Year’s celebrations and resolutions can be traced back 4000 years to the Babylonians. During a festival known as Akitu, at the years end, they pledged allegiance to a new king or affirmed their loyalty to their current king. They also promised to repay debts and returned borrowed items.
In Ancient Roman times, Julius Caeser reordered the calendar to the one which we have today; the Julian calendar. In this new configuration January, named for the pagan god Janus, became the first month of the year. Janus was the god of doorways symbolized by his two faces, one looking backwards and one forwards. At the turn of the year, Romans would make sacrifices to Janus to assure good for the coming year.
In Christian times the new year became a time to think about one’s past mistakes and consider how to change for the better. Many of us celebrate today by attending watch night services first created by John Wesley’s, founder of Methodism, as the Covenant Renewal service for New Year’s Eve. This service includes prayers and resolutions for the new year.
Resolutions for the New Year exist in other religions too. In Judaism, the New Year or Rosh Hashanah, occurs at the beginning of ten days of repentance. By beginning the year with repentance a person looks back on their past mistakes, taking stock of the previous year. But one can only achieve forgiveness through regret. What better way to demonstrate regret than resolving to change one’s behaviours for the better. Hence New Year’s resolutions.
Do New Year’s Resolutions Work?
So, do New Year’s resolutions work? Are there any tips to make them more effective or to motivate us to stay on track? According to a study by University of Scranton, 23% of people give up their resolutions after one week and only 19% stick to their goals. If you google whether New Year’s resolutions work, you’ll be inundated with research which suggests setting ourselves resolutions is setting ourselves up for failure.
As far as I can see, any suggestions about how to make resolutions stick is akin to any advice on the topic of staying motivated or achieving goals. There’s thinking about planning ahead. Breaking a goal down into steps. Being honest with yourself about what you can achieve. Only choosing one thing to focus on at a time. All good advice and the list goes on.
For me, I’m taking a slightly different tack. I’m using the New Year as a point in time to think about where I’ve come from and where I’m going. More than any other year before, perhaps because of my age, it feels like the right time to do so. This year has been a roller coaster of a journey. It makes sense to me to take some time and consolidate what I’ve learnt and would like to continue to work on. To do so, I’ve realised I must also learn to let go.
What Am I Taking with Me?
- Commitment to myself. I’ve realised in life that, like most people, I’m rather good at saying yes to others. But a lot less good – worse – at saying yes to myself. Saying no is not a word that comes easily to me. Doing less for others in order to do more for myself feels selfish. It’s not a word or a behaviour I feel comfortable with. And yet, this year I’ve finally admitted to myself something I’ve known all along. Something I tell other people. There can be a balance. I can say ‘no’ and the world won’t end, people won’t turn their backs on me but I might just come out the other side feeling a whole of a lot better.
- Knowing what I can control. If you’ve read my blog Road to Recovery: Understanding My Anxiety then you’ll know a lot of my anxiety comes from feeling the need to be in control. Since realising this I’ve been experimenting with pushing my boundaries. Someone once said to me “think about what you can do, not what you can’t”. I can’t overestimate how helpful I’ve found that advice. I say it to myself at least once a week. I’m learning that it’s okay to not do everything. At the end of a long day when I’m tired or need some down time I remind myself that there is always tomorrow. Very few things need to be done immediately. And if I don’t. If I don’t do it the next day, or the next, then that’s okay. I forgive myself. Because if it can wait days to be done, then how urgent was it anyway?
- Successes on my Blog. I have all you wonderful people who have taken the time out of incredibly busy days to thank for reading my blog. A few years ago this blog had a handful of readers. It flew under the radar and I lost momentum. Just over six months ago I relaunched this blog with a new look and layout. I committed to weekly posts and to letting people know it existed. I’m humbled every day when even just one person reads a post. This blog can be a complete joy, and also I admit, a burden. But it is something I feel justly proud of. Here’s to next year!
- Asking for Help. This is something I’ve never been good at. Not consciously. I’ve just always assumed that I had to do everything alone. As if it proved something about myself if I could do it all. Or disproved negative perceptions people had of me. Particularly this year I have come to the realisation that those ideas were all me. No-one thought I couldn’t manage. It wasn’t anyone else thinking I was weak. I had nothing to prove and yet I struggled every day to do so. I’ve finally realised that I need to let go more, I need to let others in. I don’t have to manage alone.
- Owning My Professionalism. I’ve struggled for years to feel like a professional. I do a good job. This isn’t hubris or stroking my own ego. Or maybe it is, but I know I’m good at what I do. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am. There are days that I’m scared or anxious to show up and I do anyway. Recently on the last day of a training course, after our final assignment, our mentors gave each of us feedback. My mentor told me to “wear my crown”. I needed to own that I knew what I was doing. Some days I need to remind myself of this but armed with this advice I feel like I’m finally coming into my own.
What Am I Leaving Behind?
- Forgive and Forget Mistakes. I won’t dwell on what these mistakes are. As far as I’m aware none were too grievous or awful that they weren’t easily remedied. Either way to talk about them now would defeat the purpose of this commitment. I’m leaving this past years mistakes exactly where they belong; in the past. Mistakes are great in that they teach us something new. They are valuable in that way. But once they’ve taught us, once we’ve learnt we need to let them go.
- Being Busy All the Time. I came to this realisation the other day when I left my phone at home. Every moment of the day not actively filled I reached for my phone. The worst part of being phoneless was not the absence of the object itself but the fact that I couldn’t be doing something on it. I realised all my spare time, in stolen moments whilst boiling the kettle, queuing or waiting for a bus, was filled with catching up with something on my phone. Whether emails, a language app, grocery shopping, catching up with messages or podcasts. I realised I was incapable of just being in the moment. It felt like I was wasting time. But it wasn’t wasted, it’s empty time, free time. It’s me time. So, my commitment for the new year? It’s okay not to be busy every moment of every day. In fact, it’s probably far healthier not to be.
- Goodbye Dairy. This is a slightly different item on the list. For one, it’s a physical thing to leave behind. But it’s had too much of an impact on my past year to not mention. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m a big fan of dairy. I love milk on my cereal first thing in the morning, and often late at night. I adore cheese on pizza, on pasta, in sandwiches, alone in all it’s cheesiness. But this year I’ve had to face the fact that I’m likely lactose intolerant. This has meant giving up on a lot of the foods I enjoy. It’s meant committing to exploring lactose free alternatives – a very hit and miss endeavour if ever there was one.
- Others Expectations. More and more I’ve had to challenge my own thinking. We’re all products of our upbringing and the lessons that we learn from the world around us. We all have core beliefs. One that I developed during my childhood and am learning to challenge is number one on my list above. Somewhere along the line that is my life I learnt that prioritising myself was selfish. At some point my brain started making the connection between the two. Another thing I appeared to have learnt is to over invest in other peoples’ expectations. I seem to be more concerned about what other people think of me or think I should be doing then what I think or feel. Everyone will have opinions. Often about what we do or who we are but it’s up to us whether we accept them. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “What other people think of me is none of my business” and I couldn’t agree more. I’m ready to take on advice that is helpful to me but leave what I don’t agree with behind.
- Making Assumptions. They say that when you assume you make an ass out of you and me (or u and me). If that is the case, than guilty as charged. Linked to the idea above, whilst I may feel the pressure of other peoples’ expectations I can also make assumptions about what people think or how they feel. I do this most often in relation to myself. I overthink a situation until I’m certain how people will react; it’s always negatively. I jump the gun by assuming if I make a mistake then everyone will think I’m an idiot. In all honesty, most people wouldn’t even notice, we’re all too preoccupied in our own heads. And even if they do notice? They probably realise that we all make mistakes and would be more likely to help then to think anything negatively. That is if they think anything at all. I put myself through so much grief and expend so much mental energy imagining what might happen or what someone might think, say or do. It stops now.
For a history of New Year’s resolutions read here.
Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? Do you stick to them? If you could leave behind one thing and take one thing forward what would it be? Let me know in the comments below!