By George E. Hardin
As this year wends toward its end and a new one approaches, many people are already charting a path to self-improvement for 2011, which will result in the making of one or more New Year’s resolutions. Among the most common goals are to lose weight, reduce debt, save more money, get better organized and stop smoking.
I admire and respect those who make New Year’s resolutions – and keep them, but refrain from making them myself, not because I see no need for improvement, but because I question the wisdom of waiting until the first of the year to address problems that existed the previous 365 days.
However, I do make resolutions of a kind, in my fashion, throughout the year. With all my mistakes – and they are legion – I assess what happened and vow never to do that again, although it seldom happens that way. And when things turn out well, I evaluate the situation to see what can be done to replicate such results, an effort that is not always fruitful. Essentially, the aim is a continuing commitment to put forth my best effort all the time, to grasp each opportunity to be better.
The well-known poem “Opportunity,” by the late Memphis Judge Walter Malone is engraved on a monument in Court Square. Many of us of a certain age had to memorize it as schoolchildren. In the poem, Opportunity personified cries out: “They do me wrong who say I come no more/ When once I knock and fail to find you in;/ For every day I stand outside your door,/ And bid you wake, and rise to fight and win.” He goes on to warn against lamenting over “precious chances passed away” and “vanished joys,” and concedes that although the past consists of “blotted archives,” we “find the future’s pages white as snow.” The poem promotes constant readiness for growth.
One poll says from 40 percent to 45 percent of adult Americans make one or more New Year’s resolutions. The study indicates that 75 percent keep their resolutions past the first week, and 71 percent past the second week. After one month, it drops to 64 percent, and after six months, 46 percent. Yet the process is considered worthwhile. “People who explicitly make resolutions,” the survey claims, “are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.”
New Year’s resolutions derive from a practice of the early Babylonians, who believed that one’s actions on the first day of the year influenced what happened the rest of the year.
It is easy to understand the appeal of fitness gurus, life coaches and motivational speakers who offer to fix things we think we need to change, and promise a new you for the new year, but major changes can only take place when the individual is motivated from within. Some psychologists say public accountability often helps inspire people to keep resolutions. They suggest telling family and friends about your plans and enlisting their support.
With a sound approach toward resolutions, the new year could bring personal improvements rather than a new start on the same old habits. Still, some goals are always likely to remain elusive, but that does not indicate life is less meaningful or a lack of success. How far you have advanced, not your perceived shortcomings, is what counts.
James Matthew Barrie said, “The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.”