Life by Design: 01.01.11

 Julius Caesar had one of the more effective New Year’s resolutions; in 46 BC he named the calendar after himself and moved the official date to January from the first day of spring.


Do you have to be a big-shot to make big-shot changes? 

The Babylonians before Caesar had been following the new moon to track their 11 day New Year celebration.  The commoner Babylonians’ most popular resolution in 2000 BC was to return borrowed farm equipment.  Talk about routine.  Maybe the 11 day celebration resulted in not wanting to operate heavy machinery, or maybe like most of us, they didn’t want to be burdened with the need to start fresh.  To rebirth ourselves and make all sorts of promises most of us don’t keep.

According to last week’s article in The New York Times, “How to Keep a Resolution”, you should have started a month ago.  Not to give up before you’ve even sang Auld Lang Syne, but relying on will power alone will cause you nothing but self loathing.  Better to have “a detailed plan, with emotional rewards when milestones are reached-even a strategy when there’s a setback”, so says Baba Shiv of Stanford University.

 Professor Shiv’s plan for retraining the brain is for most, not what a New Year resolution is.  A New Year resolution for some is akin to reciting to the priest in the confessional that you will no longer hit your brother or mouth-off to your parents.  You say it because you’re supposed to say something but your heart is not in it.

At Christmas dinner, my unofficial poll revealed that anyone over 80 thinks resolutions are for people between the ages of 20 and 60 who still believe they can change their lives.  One of my guests called them meaningless disappointments.  This is the same man who is married to my friend who until Thanksgiving weekend had not used her new six-burner Wolf range and attempted to reheat leftovers for us only to find out that placing plastic take out trays in an industrial strength oven can cause toxic fumes, amongst other things.  But my friend Eric still didn’t believe that his wife Florence should resolve in the New Year to learn to operate her stove.          

And Eric is probably right not to ask.  On the website, a site geared toward women, the top of the list for resolutions that may actually make you happy was, Focus on Important Relationships.

 This hits close to home for those of us whose resolution list includes not coveting your neighbor’s new BMW roadster and instead trying to like them regardless.  My list includes self admonishing tips like learning to be grateful for your minivan and the people you cart around in it.  It also includes never talking on your phone while driving said mini-van, even if the vehicle is not moving.

A past experience makes me wonder about people with questionable intent and their New Year’s resolutions.

Like a Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, there are those folks making their 15 step resolute plan as outlined by Professor Shiv, who want to bring back the stockade and make our town centers a place for those with ‘a questionable character’ to be brought to justice.  Again, this sort of thinking may be more plan than resolution but with enough enthusiasm anything can be accomplished.  In fact it’s suggested that in order to fulfill most expansive resolutions, planned self- punishments are necessary to stay on track and that, in a funny way, would fit.  

Of course life always throws us that occasional curve ball, like being trapped in a mine for 69 days.

Being trapped underground will increase your chances for weight loss and quitting smoking. Two of the top resolves, and the ones that most people fail to succeed in accomplishing.  But like the miner that continued to run while underground, and the one met by his mistress not his wife when he emerged, there are integral parts of us that no New Year or international incident can deny.  Knowing what you’re made of is half the battle and the one thing that will keep you from being the blow-hard on New Year’s Eve, spouting off about the same old-same old.    

Tina Fey was interviewed a couple of years ago when she was spending her time as Sarah Palin.  Asked how she felt about her hit show 30 Rock, and too many Emmys to count, she said that the year before she decided she would have a show, win an Emmy and have a baby.  Laughing, she said she was shocked when she got all three. 

So go ahead, throw some grand ideas at the wall and see what sticks, the bigger the better.  Surprising yourself this New Year is a better bet than the inevitable small-potatoes disappointment.   


Kim Berns is a writer and interior designer living in Rye.


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