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Raising the Bar on Resolutions

The art of making, breaking and rethinking New Year's resolutions, 2012 style.

OK, have you made them yet?

And, let’s see, how many have you broken already?

That’s the way it goes with resolutions. We devote so much thought, so much effort, so much determination to their creation. “I’m going to lose weight,” we enthuse, or “This year I’ll stop smoking.” Then, within days, they’re gone—vanishing in a forkful of Aunt Molly’s devil’s food cake, floating away in a puff of Marlboro smoke.

Do you ever wonder what’s the point? I mean, why do we set ourselves up for failure on an annual basis? Well, I guess it’s tradition, and you know the old saying—one man’s tradition is another man’s torture (well, at least what my kids told me when I tried to get them to follow my “let’s stay in on New Year’s Eve and play pinochle” tradition).

Well, since every tradition has an origin, I decided to do some research to learn where New Year’s resolutions had their beginning (in other words, I tried to find out who to blame).  Apparently, the custom originated with the Babylonians, who are the first civilization believed to celebrate a “new year” (although theirs was sometime in March, around planting time).

I can just imagine that ancient Babylonian now, sitting around the Hanging Gardens in mid-March, taking reed in hand and scratching the very first New Year’s resolutions onto his piece of papyrus. “This year, I’ll invade Mesopotamia,” he scrawled. “I’ll memorize the laws of Hammurabi, and I’ll start a sensible exercise plan.”

Troublemaker.

Okay, so maybe my resolutions of old—which usually started out as “be supermodel thin by summer vacation” and ended up as “cut Pepsi down to two glasses a day”—were of the pie crust type (you know, easily made, easily broken, and just as easily swallowed à la mode). But that’s because they were just like most people’s resolutions—restrictive in nature. 

Well, anyway, last year I thought I’d lower the bar a bit. I wrote a list of “resolutions made easy,” simple (though positive) steps that could get anyone through the new year without being branded a failure the first day he pushes the snooze button instead of waking up and running five miles before breakfast.

But that didn’t work either. Sure, the resolutions I set up for myself were slam dunk—things like “brush your teeth every day” and “sleep sometime.” I came through the year meeting these goals 100 percent—but I don’t feel any sense of accomplishment with that. I had a clean new slate, and I left it just the same—no erasing or black marks, but no movement toward masterpiece, either.

I guess I learned something, even if I didn’t move forward. Time does have limits, and life is this great gift to be cherished and examined and used as much as possible. So, with that in mind, I decided to raise the bar back up—so far that, this year, I don’t even have New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I have goals.

I’m not going to share them, not here, not now. Suffice to say that I’m going to make plans for myself, I’m going to dream dreams and work to achieve them. In fact, if I had to sum things up, my goal for 2012 is to go deeper.

As that famous New Jersey poet once said, “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” This year, it’s my goal to stop hiding behind excuses and pie crust resolutions and really go deeper with the life I have. 

I’m going to be harder on myself in 2012—but not too hard. In fact, I’ve decided that, if I fail in my resolve, I can always take a page (or a papyrus leaf) from the Babylonians, and start all over again in March.

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