December 31, 2004 Features & Images » Feature Story

To make smarter New Years resolutions 

Floss. Stretch. Drink more water.

Floss. Stretch. Drink more water.

These always make my New Year’s Resolutions short-list. And on January 1, I wake up furry-mouthed, stiff and dehydrated, and think – So much for that. Try again next year .

Remember birthdays. Call my mother more often.

I’m not actually a list person. Even less am I a person of significant resolve. My friend Lisa says this makes it all the more impressive when I actually accomplish something.

Feel less guilt.

Most people claim that the only thing they’ve successfully given up with a New Year’s resolution is making New Year’s resolutions.

General cynicism about their usefulness, combined with the fact that most of us are hard-pressed to find a quiet hour for brain-storming, goal-setting and self-analysis once the solstice arrives, makes asking about people’s New Year’s resolutions the quickest conversation-ender there is. The closed book response: "I don’t make resolutions. I wised up years ago. Excuse me, I’m headed to the bar" – suggests unresolved issues at work. A little defensive? A little too quick to change the subject? Some ground guilt flakes with your festive entree?

One friend confessed her newest resolution, which had replaced the previous "remember to send Christmas cards". Stop feeling guilty about failure to send Christmas cards. It seems we’re making progress.

The best argument for boycotting resolutions is to avoid amassing more guilt for the things you’ve neglected, failed to accomplish, or just not gotten around to yet.

Still, I find myself zoning out on the drive into work, or in the steam of the shower, trying to come up with a dark horse, the resolution that zings up from behind my sluggish motherhood statements and vague agendas and takes the race by storm.

Get organized.

The New Year’s resolution, perhaps the most sophisticated modern tool for self-flagellation, is deeply embedded in our culture. Its roots are ancient – New Year was first observed in ancient Babylon about 2000 BC, in March at the onset of spring and the planting of new crops. Eleven days of debauchery followed, and a key ritual, making resolutions, was often grounded in the promise to return borrowed farm equipment.

The Romans followed suit, celebrating New Year in March, but they buggered around with the calendar so much they eventually had to start from scratch. In the rejigged calendar, January 1 was declared by the Roman Senate to be the beginning of the New Year. Julius Caesar, who instituted this new Julian calendar, chose January 1 to honour Janus, the god of doors and gates, beginnings and endings. Janus is a double-headed figure, who is at once looking back into the old year, and forwards, into the new. Tapping into an archetype like that, it’s little wonder we feel some kind of pull to consider where we’re at on Janus’s feast, to boldly pronounce where we’d rather be, to take stock of the direction we’re heading in.

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