The turning of the year is always a time we treat ourselves to a new round of self-reflection and self-flagellation for what we have done and what we have not done. It’s a good time to take stock and make plans. But resolutions are flighty beasts. If you create them, do so with an eye towards success rather than suffering.
All of life can be broken down into moments of transition, or moments…of revelation. This has the feeling of both.
—G’Kar, Babylon 5
Blame the Romans for emphasizing this act of two-faced reflection, this looking forward and looking back. Along with roads, sanitation, and language, they also gave Europe and the New World a workable calendar. Some tweaking was required; the original “Romulus” calendar was ten months long and began in March. Legend credits King Numa Pompilius — the dude in charge sometime after Rome’s foundation but way before the Republic and Julius Caesar — with adding two more months to help bring the lunar and solar year into synchronization. The new year was moved to start a week or so after the winter solstice on January 1st in a new month dedicated to Janus, the god of doorways, the god of looking forward and looking back.
Other Calendars, Other New Years
As we think about the meaning of a “new year,” it’s worth noting some facts about calendars. First, most cultures originally created their calendar to align with harvest seasons driven by the solar year. However, they also followed the phases of the moon even more closely and devised a lunar-based monthly calendar. Unfortunately, those two sets of cycles don’t line up neatly — some 11 to 12 days separate the annual lunar and solar calendars. (What was God thinking? Perpetual employment for the astronomers and calendar makers?)
Furthermore, while a lot of the world has agreed to use the Gregorian Roman calendar that established today as January 3, 2018, that’s not the only calendar still in use. A combination solar/lunar calendar is still followed by prominent religions — both Judaism and Islam — and large, populated countries — namely, China and India.
I have found that asking someone familiar with one of these areas about their new year celebrations typically leads to them rolling their eyes and apologizing that they have a screwy calendar that changes all the time (i.e. it’s lunar, so New Year’s Day moves around). And yet, why be embarrassed? Collectively, all of these calendars move around. So, while it’s all fine and good to say that January 1st is the New Year celebrated by “most” people, the truth is that if you summed up everyone in China and India and added them to all the Muslims and Jews… a lot more people are celebrating other days to start their new year.
As I was poking around for ideas about New Year’s celebrations, I also noted changes in emphasis across the cultures. This is not from expertise, I admit, but based solely on Googling basic terms like “Islamic New Year.” The images you see differ quite a bit: Chinese pictures focus on red and gold with fireworks and parades; Islam images are blue and calming, with the sun setting into a dark and peaceful night; Jewish visuals show blessings with food, especially sweets; and Hindu images are orange and yellow, with candles, fireworks, and lots of lights. Whatever the culture, the emphasis is on both outward celebration with family, food, and good cheer and inward reflection with purification, self-evaluation, and a weighing up of the past in order to plan for the future. Ok, then, time for some planning.
The articles about New Year’s resolutions swirling about this week often make the point that nearly 40% of resolutions are abandoned by the end of January, with almost 25% tossed by the wayside after January 8th. Since those statistics are likely self-reported, it makes me wonder whether those 25% were really resolutions, as opposed to wishes. I have a goal to eat more calorie-free hot-fudge sundaes, but they don’t really exist, so I wouldn’t call that a resolution.
One way to get real about resolutions is to think about goal-setting that actually does work. The notion of S.M.A.R.T. goals typically pops up in that part of the conversation. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable and two other things that I can never remember — more on the not-remembering in a minute. These first three are key.
- Specific— If you want to drink less, how much is less? Do you mean less often or less in quantity?
- Measurable — Losing 10 pounds isn’t very achievable unless you can clarify a start and end point. What’s your starting weight and what’s your end date? You’re more likely to get there if you say I have to get to today’s morning weight minus ten pounds by June 1st, the day of my next doctor’s appointment (daughter’s wedding, summer trip, etc.)
- Achievable — Suppose you want to stop taking crap from your boss, neighbor, co-worker. How are you going to do that? Or suppose you really need to lose fifty pounds. That may not be doable within a single year. It’s better to have a goal that you can actually reach, focused on actions you can take, rather than something unattainable even if it’s what you really need to do.
So SMA are important descriptors for your goals. What about R & T? As I researched the origins of the acronym, I realized that the reason I can’t remember them is because Results-Oriented and Time-bound already fit under Specific and Measurable. Forget R & T. You really need just SMA… and a B.
SMAB Resolutions are Smarter
The missing part of a good goal-setting acronym is the most important feature — Behavioral. If you want to change yourself, you need to change what you’re actually doing and that means understanding what that is. If you want to lose weight, you have to be aware of what you’re eating, when, and why — what your activity level is (or is not), what barriers prevent you from exercising, how, and why. You have to fix things at the behavioral level in order to see results as a whole. SMAB isn’t as catchy an acronym as SMART, but it’s the real deal.
Having said all this, I have to confess, I haven’t been entirely successful with past New Year’s resolutions per se. I didn’t lose ten pounds last year — although I did gain and lose five pounds four times — doesn’t that count as losing twenty pounds? I did shave off five between November 25th and my doctor’s visit on December 12th, so I can confirm that it is achievable, providing I change my behavior. Currently, I believe I have scientifically proven that the key problem has something to do with my wallet. If I don’t take out money to buy food I shouldn’t eat when I’m at the grocery store or near an In-N-Out Burger, then I just don’t have the wrong food. This is known as solving the upstream vertical integration nutrition protocol. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
My other resolution last year — and I posted it on the wall in one room, although not the room I normally sit in — was to do something I didn’t want to do, and I’m reading my handwriting now which says and I quote “no matter how boring it is.” Well, it was too boring, so I didn’t do it. That resolution was amusing and a little snotty, but it wasn’t Specific, Measurable, or Behavioral-driven.
So my resolution this year is to Do the Boring Thing by (1) making a list of what needs to be done; (2) scheduling time on our family calendar to discuss it with my spouse because she has to do some of it and because goals you talk to other people about are more likely to get done; and (3) committing to completion by May 1st. I’ve already discussed it with my daughter who has told me about her resolutions, so we both agreed to check in by May 1st to see how we’re doing. Accountability also helps.
Humans have a phrase: “What is past, is prologue.” […] Minbari also have a phrase: “What is past, is also sometimes the future.”
–Delenn, Babylon 5
It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution that prompted me to start blogging, but it was a goal I gave myself about two years ago, just to see what would happen. Pretty soon, I decided I would do it weekly and then always on Wednesdays, because then I knew I wouldn’t skip it. Now, it’s on the schedule and in my plan — even if I shorten it because of the holidays or lengthen it because I’m traveling and have so much to talk about. “Write a blog once a week on Wednesdays” turns out to be pretty specific, measurable, achievable, and behavioral and much better than the “Write More” or “Become a Writer” that was drifting around in my consciousness for years.
If you really want to do it, write it on your calendar. Regardless of whether you’re starting the month of January, Rabi al-Akhir, Pausa, or Tevet. It doesn’t have to be a new year. No time like the present to get stuff done.
Next week — a closer look at the past in blogs and a planned move to a new domain name. Stay tuned!
Today’s DailyPost word is Treat