I’m always tempted during this time of the year to compile a list of New Year’s resolutions. I have, in fact, prepared such a list. A list of ten mini sure-fire self-improvement plans. Ten behavioral changes guaranteed to make me a better friend, a better husband, a better employee – a better person.
They range from the trite – quit eating so much junk food – to the downright solipsistic – work towards adopting a more minimalistic lifestyle. My eating habits, drinking habits, reading habits, writing habits – all represented in black and white. And each item on my list has two things in common: Each is guaranteed to have been forgotten by the time my birthday rolls around in the spring, and each assumes that I have some shortcoming that needs to be addressed and rectified.
And while that may be accurate (and is, most likely, completely true), that begs a couple of questions:
What is so special about the first of the year that makes this such a popular practice? Is it the idea of “a clean slate” that most people find attractive? I mean, this practice dates back to thousands of years ago – the ancient Babylonians made it a practice to vow to their gods to return anything they’d borrowed, repay any debts they’d incurred the previous year, and make right any situation where they’d wronged a neighbor, friend or acquaintance.
I can certainly see how this practice would come to be, but why wait until the start of the new year? Do I need to start keeping a ledger of those I’ve wronged so that I can make the appropriate restitution come the New Year? That would fill way too many notebooks, and ain’t nobody got time for that anyway.
As it pertains to my list specifically, what magical quality is there imbued in the first day of January that merits my turning over a new leaf, as it were? Does that make is somehow easier? Does it guarantee a greater degree of success? Past experience tells me that the answer to both questions is a resounding “no!”
Does it need to be corrected?
This may seem facetious on the face of it, but it’s not. If my friend picks up the lunch tab a few times more than I did, does that merit some sort of comeuppance? Do I need to pay him the difference? Ensure that I, somehow, pay for lunch more than he does in the coming year?
Again, as it pertains to my own personal list of shortcomings and their associated corrections, are they really shortcomings? What is the value in eating less junk, drinking less alcohol, reading more books, writing more words? For me personally, they will certainly fulfill short term goals, but are they necessarily behavioral changes that will benefit me in the long run? Will they bring more value and intention to me life?
I seem to have more questions than I do answers, which is par for the course. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. An examined life, as my old philosophy professor was fond of quoting at us, is not worth living. It just strikes me as odd that the only time this occurs in earnest is when the calendar changes to a new year.