I am going to lose 10 pounds. I am going to exercise more. I am going to be better at staying in touch with family and friends.
New Year’s resolutions.
Historians date the practice of making resolutions on the first day of the year as being almost 4,000 years old, going back to the Babylonians. Their New Year was in mid-March, at the time that crops would be planted. And their promises to the gods had to do with paying debts and returning objects borrowed.
Fast forward about 2,000 years to 46 BCE, when Julius Caesar established the beginning of the year as January 1. Romans would use this pagan holiday to offer sacrifices and make promises of good conduct for the coming year. About a century later, early Christians used the first day of the new year to think about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future.
That should sound very familiar. For isn’t that exactly what Yom Kippur and the entire High Holiday season is all about – thinking on and acting in ways to become better people?
Still, we live in this secular world and January 1 is – well – a great place to begin again – to figure out how to make ourselves into better versions of – ourselves! Research has shown that almost half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Yet, only about 8% are successful in achieving their goals.
That doesn’t mean we should not make them or try to keep them. But going in, we need to keep in mind that – according to other research – it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.
Here are some resolutions you may wish to consider for yourself, that a friend of mine sent me. What I liked about her suggestions was their bite-sized approach…not too much but enough to push me a little further. Here are five:
- Read 12 books this year. Expand your mind with a new book a month, in addition to what you may already read.
- Donate 52 pieces of clothing. Most of us have enough clothes and we often buy additional pieces throughout the year. Declutter and donate 1 old piece each week.
- Write to yourself once each week. Have you ever gone back and read letters that your mom saved from when you wrote home from summer camp? You learn a lot about yourself. So…consider writing yourself a letter each week that you can reflect on later. It’s another way to say: keep a journal.
- Volunteer for something once a month. Helping others helps ourselves. And given the continuing pandemic, a lot of places could use a helping hand…even virtually.
- Give yourself a compliment every day. Seriously, recognize what you do good and say it out loud. Every day.
As we enter 2022, let me add just one more – very Jewish – resolution. It is one we should do for 365 days. In that way, we may…we just may…make it a habit. What is it? To bring a bit of light into the world each day. To respond to negativity with kindness and goodness. To go the extra step. To do that random act of kindness. To make someone else’s world just a bit brighter.
We still have months to go before we can emerge fully from the darkness of this pandemic. Let’s keep bringing light to the darkness. And I pray that 2022 will be filled with healing, health, and hope. Happy (secular) New Year’s.
Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff