New Year’s is coming, so it’s time to make those resolutions. What’ll it be this year? Lose weight, quit smoking, how about get to the gym more often or become a better person? Of course New Year’s resolutions succeed about as often as lottery tickets pay off.
New Year’s Eve is the world’s oldest holiday. It actually began with the Babylonians 4,000 years ago and took place in March when nature renewed itself. People even made resolutions back then. Early Babylonians’ most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. They probably weren’t successful either.
Two thousand years later, the Romans shifted New Year’s to January. They named the month after Janus, the god of beginnings. It was said Janus had two faces, so he was able to look backward and forward at the same time.
OK, so it may be healthy to stop once a year and look back to see what we have done wrong and look forward to see what we could do better. But that could cut both ways. We could look back and feel guilt, regret or self-judgment. Or we could look back and see who we’ve harmed and try to make amends. We could look forward with hope and optimism, or we could set ourselves up for failure with unrealistic goals.
The thing that worries me about New Year’s resolutions is that in today’s culture, most of us are more clear about who we think we should be than who we really are at the core. In today’s “be all that you can be” mentality, there is little time for honest self-reflection, or even compassion.
One of my teachers many years ago said the world was full of people trying to be filet mignon, when deep down we really know we are meatballs!
I recently worked with a man in his early 60s. Although quite successful by most standards, he had always felt insecure and self-critical. Like most people, he tried to hide his insecurity and pretended he was stronger and smarter than he really felt. At the same time, he spent most of his life trying to become a better person in hopes that he would lose his insecurity. So he promised to lose weight, quit smoking, stand up to his boss and be more assertive. None of this worked, so he felt even more insecure and self-critical.
Over time, he gave up trying to change himself and devoted his energy to understanding his own humanity. Recently he said that once he had stopped giving himself a hard time and accepting himself, he was much more self-confident.
Another happy meatball!
Old King Janus was pretty fortunate to be able to look forward and backward at the same time. But in the process of repairing the past and creating a future, we lose the present moment. Remember, regret and remorse are always about the past. Anxiety and even hope are always about the future. And most humans spend most of their time worrying about the past or future.
So how’s this for a New Year’s resolution: Take one year and stop trying to change yourself. Spend that year assuming that the person you are is the person you will always be. And if you are like most of us, you will soon discover that person, in many respects, is a meatball. Because ultimately, most of us are looking for peace of mind. And peace doesn’t come when we’ve won a battle; peace comes when we stop fighting.
So for this year, stop fighting. If that doesn’t work, next year you can promise to return the farm equipment or lose weight.