Don’t Make a New Year’s Resolution This Year

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Television talk show hosts, radio broadcasters, online and print journalists, friends and family may advise you to make a New Year’s resolution for 2018.

You may decide to read one book a month, learn a foreign language, save money, be nicer to friends, volunteer or lose weight. It is likely that, as the ball dropped in Times Square, you declared your resolution.

Think back to last year’s resolution and ask yourself if you accomplished your plan. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us probably would answer no.

The challenge facing us is what to do to enhance our lives while replacing the habit of establishing New Year’s resolutions.

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It is interesting to take a look at the origin of making resolutions. The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. The Romans also offered sacrifices to the deity, Janus, and made commitments to embrace good conduct for the New Year. Early Christians on the first day of the New Year honored the occasion by thinking about their past mistakes and resolving to do better in the future.

In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Within Evangelical Protestant churches, especially African-American denominations, night services are held on New Year’s Eve where praying and making resolutions for the coming year occur.

Since the Jewish faith celebrates their New Year during the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the secular celebration is not part of the religion. Many rabbis recommend making a commitment to social justice, being engaged in the ongoing work of repairing the world, strengthening one’s relationship with Israel, and concentrating on enhancing one’s health and wellness.

Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly secular practice where most people focus purely on self-improvement. Why not take a new approach this year and consider adopting a mantra or intention?

The word mantra originates from Buddhism. A mantra can be a sound, a word or a phrase that is repeated throughout the day. It can be viewed as an “intention” or an act to accomplish. Mantras are used in meditation and/or yoga but can also be incorporated as part of your daily life. The word “om” is often used, but this may not be appropriate for individuals who want to accomplish a goal.  Goal-oriented words such as “positive, calm, believe” may be used as a mantra.

You may wonder why having a mantra is a good substitute for a New Year’s resolution. It is a way to provide a state of mindfulness to your life or take a few moments each day to take a break from your life and concentrate on a thought. Mantras are successful when they become an ongoing part of your day since the goal is for the word to enter your subconscious and help to shift negative patterns into positive ones.

How do you get started with finding a way to substitute a New Year’s resolution for a fresh approach this year?

First, ask yourself the question, “why?” This question may help you in defining what you want to achieve this year. Be realistic and try not to criticize yourself if your intentions or goals are not similar to previous years or not like your friends or family members. Many people don’t know why they set a goal for the New Year but feel that it is a practice they should accomplish.

Next, consider substituting a mantra for a New Year’s resolution. Define in a word or phrase how you would like to change your life or your goal for the New Year. Your goals may be to be “to learn,” “be positive,” “to be caring,” “be healthy,” “be helpful” or “be calm.” After defining your mantra or intention, try to commit to a time each day to take deep breaths, say your mantra and be aware or mindful of the world around you. Try to find three times a day where you can say your mantra while taking deep breaths in and out. This will be your “me” time or personal time each day.

Finally, if you decide that you want to set a New Year’s resolution, try to be more realistic when setting achievable goals. Also, be understanding and forgiving to yourself if your resolution is not met. One major mistake that individuals make is that if their resolution is not met, they accept failure instead of setting a new resolution. The act of setting resolutions does not need to be just during the New Year but can be an ongoing process.

Good luck in setting your mantra, intention or finding a more realistic and achievable New Year’s resolution this year. May this year bring you health, happiness and achievable goals! 

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.

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