Kick-Starting the New Year

The Christmas tree has been taken down, wrapped in a giant plastic bag and dragged to the sidewalk for tomorrow’s pick-up. The ornaments are all boxed and on the elevator as I write this post on their way to our basement storage ben. The last vestiges of the holiday season are gone.  What does that mean?  It’s time for New Year’s resolutions.

In January, like many other Americans, I take stock of what transpired in 2018 but also look to the future. This is when I recalibrate my life, recharge my batteries and reconsider what I’d like to accomplish in the coming year.

I asked Bibi (one of my husband’s caregivers), if people in his country of Ghana have the habit of making resolutions at the beginning of the year as we do.  He explained that at home churches are packed on December 31st as everyone wants to hear the prophecies of their religious leaders. And, just like we do, people make the same ambitious plans to lose weight by exercising more and eating and drinking less.  Within two weeks, however, Ghanaians, too, abandon their good intensions and moved on with the demanding realities of daily life. 

Making resolutions is personal.  While I like to start the new year with a short list of to-dos, many people prefer to stretch them out throughout the year. “If I want to take on a self-improvement project, I do it on an as-needed basis, not just on January 1st,” explained lawyer friend Harvey. 

Ann Stratte, president of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, has an original twist on the concept.  “I love the idea of choosing a ‘Word of the Year’ vs. New Year’s Resolution, because it helps bring focus and clarity to what I want to create and how I want to live my life.  My word this year is ‘thoughtful’. “ 

How did the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions have its start?  While some people attribute it to Roman times and the tradition of Janus—the two-faced god who symbolically looked backwards into the previous year and ahead to the future—it began much earlier. Credit goes to the ancient Babylonians who 4,000 years ago were the first to set goals for the coming year. However, instead of doing so in January, the tradition was attached to the planting of the crops in March.  At this time, people elected their new king and made promises to pay their debts and make amends for any wrong doings from the previous year.  In return, the gods looked favorably upon them for the coming year but only if they honored their agreement.

I’ve read that less than half of Americans make resolutions for some level of self-improvement. And, then only eight percent are successful in achieving their goals.  With such a low return, it occurred to me that you could enhance your chances for success if you approached the process with some common sense and objective focus.  I queried several of my smart friends to see if they had any clever approaches to share.   Consider the following tips and you are guaranteed to raise the average percentage of Americans who meet their resolutions.

Spirits marketing guru, Lori Tieszen, suggests the following: “My only advice is to commit to a resolution with a spouse or partner.  Group effort tends to be easier than the solitary slog to perfection.”

Joan DeCollibus, my canine fashion designer friend, has a contemporary approach.  She recommends putting your resolutions on your iPhone calendar. “The class you need to take, the trip you need to make and the meetings with people who may be involved.”

Ever the practical theorist and former wine writer, Lila Gault says, “I think the most important thing is to be realistic.  Lose 10 pounds, not 20.  Learn traveler's Spanish, not great fluency.  Make one or two new friends, not a gaggle.”

Chandni Patel, one of my favorite Gen X-ers, had plenty of time to weigh in on the topic while on jury duty: “Take advantage of all that resolution energy around you and use it to your advantage. It’s a great time to hang with friends without drinking and maybe even while exercising, given that going dry for January and working out more are big in this month.”

Chandni also suggested easing into accomplishing your resolutions. “Think about what you can do over the year, as opposed to trying to make a dramatic life change in January when life is already hard enough.”

To help achieve her resolutions, Chandni is currently re-reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin which she highly recommends. The author “comes at it from a pretty pragmatic standpoint and I always find nuggets that help.”

Top communications strategist, Joan Brower, admitted that constructing and maintaining new year’s resolutions have never been her strong suit. However, she suggested being specific about your goals and setting benchmarks. “If you want to lose X number of pounds, determine a deadline and work toward it.”  But Joan also warned that “most important thing is to be forgiving of oneself when you fall off the wagon—we’re all human!”

 With that in mind, here are my resolutions for 2019, all of them are manageable and within my reach especially if I follow the advice of my pals.

1.    Learn about the fundaments of opera appreciation

2.    Be more diligent about studying Italian

3.    Find an eventual home for my collection female artists

4.    Start a yoga regime

5.    Change my colorist

6.    Succumb to a colonoscopy exam. The thought sends shivers up and down my spine, but I am already one year in arears (no pun intended) with my every five-year exam

7.    Make $1 million dollars at CancerCare’s 75h Anniversary auction I am co-chairing

8.    Overcome my fear of yeast and then, learn to make bread

On the occasion of the New Year, a period which New York Magazine writers Max Read and David Wallace-Wells describes as a period of “optimism and future panic,” I am at the ready to begin. Equipped with all good intensions, I have already checked off two boxes on my list. 

In fact, I’ve never put my resolutions down in writing before.  It has always been something rolling around in my head.  But I am going on record in front of all of you with this post following Joan’s advice, “Tell your friends about your resolutions.  Get them out there!” And her best tip of all: “Do it!”