Rituals are an integral part of the holiday season. They are shaped by ancestry, faith, and culture, varying from person to person, family to family. A tree with ornaments collected over a lifetime. Grandma’s stuffing recipe. A candelabrum to be lit. Making New Year’s resolutions is a holiday ritual that practically everyone is familiar with. People make lists of their resolutions, post them on social media and share them with family and friends over dinner on New Year’s Day.
Making New Year’s resolutions is a ritual that has stood the test of time. By some accounts the Babylonians began this practice about 4000 years ago, and their resolutions consisted of promises to their gods to pay what they owed and return what they’d borrowed. These seem to be positive aspirations, and most people today believe they are choosing resolutions that will also improve their lives in constructive ways.
New Year’s Resolutions: Positive or Negative?
Most resolutions, however, actually have an underlying negative basis: something is wrong with me, and I need to fix it. I need to lose more weight or get more fit. Perhaps I should work harder, get up earlier or make more plans. I ought to cook healthier meals, read more, worry less, ad infinitum. You get the picture. Additionally, although we rarely realize it, many of our goals aren’t even our own. We have borrowed them from others, absorbed them from culture and been sold them by media.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to change, to grow and to improve. But after years of setting coercive or unrealistic goals, of beating myself up because I wasn’t already perfect or well on my way there, I decided upon a kinder, gentler alternative to “traditional” New Year’s resolutions. My new ritual has two-parts, and I begin by looking back.
Looking back has a negative connotation in our culture. Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Coaches warn runners not to look back because it slows them down, perhaps allowing a competitor to race past them. Looking back implies regret or an inability to deal with life in the present moment. However, driving yourself hard and always racing towards the next accomplishment, the next finish line or the next designated area for self improvement, without ever stopping to acknowledge how far you’ve already come, certainly has a negative impact on your life. This two-part ritual is a positive, healing practice that can help you honor both where you’ve been and acknowledge where you’d like to go.
Part I: New Year’s Eve
Start by claiming some alone time on New Year’s Eve. Choose a time when you can be quiet, calm, and unhurried; a place where you are comfortable and undisturbed. Bring your journal and favorite pen, perhaps a nice hot cup of tea.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Let your breath become slow and even. Let your mind clear. You deserve this time, so sit as long as it takes. Focus on your heart space and ask yourself, “Where have I grown this year? What have I done well? What have I learned? Where have I been strong? Where have I been more able to give and receive grace?” You might want to record these questions in your journal. If other positively-framed questions occur and move you, include them. No negatives allowed.
Tune in to your heart and listen. Then, write the answers down as they arise, one by one, paying attention not only to the words and phrases, but also to memories, images, visions, snippets of song or poetry. Record it all. Your heart has a unique language. Open yourself up to it. Do not strive or force anything. When you feel finished, you are.
Finally, take a few minutes to read what you’ve written. Sit in the grace of the moment. Is there an over-arching theme in what you’ve recorded? Tune in to your heart, your body. How do you feel? Now, write down what you’ve learned during this New Year’s Eve ritual. As you end this time of looking back, spend a moment in heart-centered gratitude for your life and progress over the past year.
Part II: New Year’s Day
Return to your quiet place of solitude with your journal and pen. Re-read your entry from New Year’s Eve and spend a few moments in quiet contemplation. Then, if anything occurs to you that you would like to add to yesterday’s entry, do so now. Again, breathe slowly and deeply. Allow your world to shrink to this moment, this breath. Acknowledge again the beauty and significance of your life this past year. Feel your innate value as a human being.
Now, we look forward. Holding yourself in grace, how would you like to grow this year? Don’t base your resolutions on a false belief in your brokenness. Instead, holding yesterday’s revelations in mind, set intentions that honor your wholeness. Be positive and open-ended. Can you do a better job of caring for your body in ways that feel good to you? Live life with a more open heart? Be truer to your highest self? Can you honor your own knowing? Take more time for people and activities you truly value? Explore your creativity in ways your heart has been longing for? These intentions have nothing at all to do with what society says you should be or do and everything to do with the true callings of your heart.
These types of resolutions do not belittle or coerce our precious selves. Instead, they celebrate who we are and anticipate who we can become. Like attracts like. I’m no longer willing to begin a new year by beating myself up and then wondering why I feel so bruised and abused by year’s end. Instead, my two-part ritual gives me an honest, but kind way of assessing the previous year and a positive, affirming beginning to the new one. Won’t you join me?