David recently posed an interesting question. “I wonder why we celebrate New Year’s Day.”
In this era of the Internet and cell phones, I gave him my standard answer. “I don’t know. Why don’t you Google it.”
He did, and he discovered that Julius Caesar, along with scientists of his day, completely revised the calendar, adding days, renaming the seventh month after himself, and shifting the beginning of the year from March to January. This Julian calendar, with a few minor tweaks, is still used by much of the world, but not all.
Later, I did a little research of my own, and I turned up a great deal of information. I knew the Chinese and the Jews follow a calendar of their own and that the Christian church has a liturgical calendar that differs from the Julian calendar, but I had no idea that there is a long list of civilizations that follow their own calendar.
This wealth of knowledge was interesting, but I was more interested in why we celebrate the beginning of a new year, regardless of when it is. Most of the information I found as to the “why” of the holiday was in blogs and articles in which the writers offered opinions. I decided that if I was going to rely on an opinion, I might as well use my own. My opinion is that it’s all about fresh starts – not an original idea, but truth rarely is.
January 1 has become a day of new beginnings: beginning a diet that will get you into that special pair of jeans, starting an exercise program that will give you six-pack abs, setting up a budget that will get your finances in order, earning a degree that will qualify you for your dream job, writing that award-winning novel. In the immortal words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for you?”
As I’ve already demonstrated, in-depth research is not my strong suit, but the few articles I scanned agreed that many, if not most, New Year’s resolutions don’t last into February. The fresh fruit and vegetables soften and shrivel in the refrigerator while the fast food wrappers collect in the back seat of the car. The gym that was packed in early January is virtually deserted by Valentine’s Day, and the shiny, new BowFlex has become a very expensive clothes rack. Credit card companies receive requests to replace “lost” cards that were cut into pieces in the enthusiasm of the New Year. The exhilaration of celebration has faded, and a sense of failure has taken its place.
In a much earlier season of my life, I spent a few years as an insurance agent. Anyone who has been involved in sales has probably received at least some training in goal setting. One technique is called the SMART method – make goals specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. It is also important to make both long-term and short-term goals and to review goals often, revising them as necessary.
I believe we often fail to achieve our goals because we make the time element too long. By that, I mean that we set a five-year goal and plan to review it annually, or we set a one-year goal and plan to review it monthly. Then, on week two, we leave the salad we brought for lunch in the office refrigerator and go out with co-workers for a burger and fries. We label ourselves as a failure, and we give up.
I wonder if we would have more success if we followed the twelve-step program model and took our New Year’s resolutions one day at a time. Each evening, review how the day went. If you did good, reward yourself – in keeping with your goals, of course. No hot fudge sundaes for those on a diet or $200 shoes for those on a budget. On the other hand, if you blew it, review both the day and your plan. Adjust your plan if necessary, adjust your attitude as needed, and resolve to do better tomorrow.
This one-day-at-a-time approach is not a new idea either. The writer of the Book of Lamentations had this to say about it in the sixth century B.C.:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
New Year’s Day comes once a year, and each new year feels like a clean slate. Still, every time the sun comes up, a new day presents its own clean slate. As those slates are filled with small successes, next year’s celebration might just be a really big one.
Happy New Year!