A time-honored tradition that occurs at the beginning of every year, New Year’s resolutions have been around for quite a while. Historians date the first New Year’s resolutions back to the Babylonians, nearly 4,000 years ago. A 12-day festival was held mid-March — the beginning of crop planting season — to celebrate their New Year. The festival was known as Akitu, and the celebrations included making promises to their gods, returning any borrowed items and paying any debts. Sound familiar?
Fast forward to Ancient Rome: In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar “re-dated” the New Year to the first of January. The month of January was named for the two-faced god Janus; Romans believed that one of his heads looked back on the previous year while the other looked forward into the new one. Worshipers made sacrifices to this god and promises to conduct themselves in a good way.
Clearly, reflection has been a significant part of human history for centuries. Yet coupled with that seems to be a certain amount of repentance, of self-flagellation. These days, resolutions might be a bit more contemporary — more resolutions to volunteer and perhaps fewer sacrifices to a deity — but the sentiment still holds. Resolutions have become inextricably linked to negative self-reflection. In other words, why do all our New Year’s resolutions center around what we didn’t do?
Research shows that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail. This means that year after year, we are setting ourselves up to have an eight in 10 chance of not meeting our goals. There are countless reasons why we don’t keep our New Year’s resolutions. We set our goals too high. We don’t manage our time well. We simply don’t feel like it. But then, before we know it, another year has passed and we’re back where we started (unfortunately another year older and none the wiser). So why do we keep berating ourselves like this?
I propose that this year, as we head out of a year steeped in chaos and tragedy, we choose to focus on something a little bit different: New Year’s continuations. New Year’s continuations, much like resolutions, revolve around the theme of reflection. But here’s the catch: Continuations ask you to focus on the positive things about the previous year instead of the negative. Perhaps you found out how to make the perfect cup of tea. Resolve to continue doing that. Perhaps you were particularly good at calling loved ones on a regular basis. Resolve to continue that.
Continuations are a yearly, and most definitely deserved, pat on the back. They are a cause for celebration. They pull out all the little — and big — things that you do that you’re proud of. New Year’s continuations fixate on good habits and ask us to simply keep doing them. They can be as momentous as financial responsibility or as daily as allotting a few minutes each morning to meditate. The point is, New Year’s continuations remind us that in a year that has been more than challenging for so many, there can be moments of light that we can choose to carry with us into 2021.