A blank New Year's Resolution List

It’s Friday and I Haven’t Kept Any of my New Year’s Resolutions, Because…

I didn’t keep any resolutions because I didn’t make any and have never liked the practice. While I’ve been trying to enjoy the holidays, there have always been those one or two people in my circle who are amazingly generous about offering suggestions about things I should include on my list!

This year, I chose to make this annoyance into a learning opportunity.

I decided to do two things and ask the questions:

•          “Who the heck started this infuriating tradition?”

•          “Is there a better (bettah*) option for facilitating change?”

I attended Roman Catholic Schools in Queens, New York. When my classmates and I returned from our Holiday break, the nuns would immediately ask us to share our New Year’s Resolutions. Our uniformed rabble would swear in unison that we weren’t going to eat any more chocolate or ever annoy our siblings again – or whatever. I assumed that nuns invented this tradition because they were terrific at making lists of things we shouldn’t be doing. Then they provided us with constant feedback regarding our rankings and shortcomings. I thought they created resolutions as our warm-up training for what awaited us during the Lenten Period.

With that in mind, I started my research. And I was surprised when I queried Google and learned that experts believe the ancient Babylonians were the first to make resolutions for their new year approximately 4,000 years ago. The Babylonians would make commitments to their gods, promising to repay debts and return borrowed objects. Look, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I believe that their gods were trying to get a handle on their constituent’s larcenous habits.

Many millennia later, Julius Caesar put his egotistical stamp on the new year concept. During 46 B.C., he added 90 extra days to the year and aligned the year with the sun. His action launched the new Julian calendar. What else would he call it? Caesar also inaugurated January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. Imagine how that messaging was received or understood by the masses without the help of PowerPoint flowcharts or digital devices. Human nature suggests that some Romans profited from this change, and at least one person was selling the Ancient Roman version of “The Julian Calendar for Dummies” on a stone tablet. The Romans coped by creating a holiday where they offered sacrifices to Janus, exchanged gifts with one another, decorated their homes with laurel branches, and attended raucous parties. They kept busy imbibing and trying to figure out what month and day it was – but not making resolutions. 

An intriguing and viable alternative to resolution-making appeared hundreds of years later. Medieval Knights approached the coming of the New Year differently and created the tradition of the Peacock Vow, which involved attending a lavish banquet, where they placed their hands on a peacock. The action recommitted them to the ideals of chivalry for that year.

Granted, the mental picture of people consuming these beautiful birds is off-putting, but their annual vow and code have merits worth exploring. The Code of Chivalry ideals included:

•          Humility – Never announce that you are a knight – behave like one. You are better than no one, and no one is better than you.

•          Gratitude – The only intelligent response to the ongoing gift of life is gratitude

•          Love – Love is the end goal. There is no obstacle that enough love cannot move.

•          Equality – Every knight holds human equality as an unwavering truth

So, it appears that the knights lived with intention. They made a deliberate, conscious choice to pursue a particular course of action or direction.

Perhaps, that’s the course to take. Committing to making meaningful changes that make a difference in our lives feels right. Personally, thinking about how, where, and why my actions matter is my way forward. And I can still eat chocolate.

Julienne B. Ryan is the author of The Learned-It-In-Queens Communications Playbook – Winning Against Digital Distraction” and an applied, narrative storyteller, speaker, trainer, and coach. She is on a mission to improve how we communicate with each other, one authentic conversation at a time. Click on this link to learn about her services.