That Time Again

“I’m going to go to the gym 3X a week.” “I’m going to lose 30#.” “I’m going to …” make a bunch of self-improvement promises/plans and forget them by March.

The New Year Resolution is the annual attempt at self-improvement that annually fall face first in the plate of mashed potatoes, and makes us feel bad. So, under what rock did this masterful idea emerge of how to destroy one’s self-esteem?

According to historians, the Babylonians made promises at the beginning of each year to return borrowed objects and pay their debts. (Was that the motive behind reconquering the world?)

The practice continued (up, down, or through) the ages. The Romans made promises (I am going to kill Julius on the steps of the Senate.) The medieval knights reaffirmed their oath to chivalry each year (I will gallantly dispose of all non-Christians and reclaim the Holy Land.)

Popular goals include resolutions: (from Wikipedia)

Improve physical well-being: eat healthy food, lose weight, exercise more, eat better, drink less alcohol, quit smoking, stop biting nails, get rid of old bad habits

Improve mental well-being: think positive, laugh more often, enjoy life

Improve finances: get out of debt, save money, make small investments

Improve career: perform better at current job, get a better job, establish own business

Improve education: improve grades, get a better education, learn something new (such as a foreign language or music), study often, read more books, improve talents

Improve self: become more organized, reduce stress, be less grumpy, manage time, be more independent, perhaps watch less television, play fewer sitting-down video games

Take a trip

Volunteer to help others, practice life skills, use civic virtue, give to charity, volunteer to work part-time in a charity organization

Get along better with people, improve social skills, enhance social intelligence

Make new friends

Spend quality time with family members

Settle down, get engaged/get married, have kids

Pray more, be closer to God, be more spiritual

Be more involved in sports or different activities

Spend less time on social media (such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)

Yes, been there, done that. I’m overweight and out of shape (internally. Front and rear bumpers are out where I can see them.) However, I am getting better at making and keeping resolutions. Well, sort of.

During the formative years, I was privileged to live in a heavily Jewish community. Although a German Presbyterian (?? – there wasn’t a Lutheran church available within walking distance). There was more influence than realized. When I obtained the equivalent of a Ph.D. in ancient literature, the influence was markedly greater.

One thing that influenced me was how Jews handled new year resolution-making. It was practical, meaningful, and with a little tweek, workable.

According to Jewish tradition, G-d inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the the interlude a Jew tries to amend his or her behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against G-d and against other human beings. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by G-d. (In Christian theology, being forgiven by the one wronged would be appropriate, too.)

In the Western world the Make and Break cycle begins either before or after the hangover and given up on the day of I’m a Failure, sometime in March before the Christian Easter Feasting.

When is a good time?

Any time is a good time—except November and December. For writers and authors November is out. It’s the NaNoWriMo challenge and Thanksgiving. December is out because of being caught up in the preparations and commercialization of Christmas and Hanuka. There is little time for what is needed to make meaningful plans for the coming twelve months. What I found was the time of the Jewish High Holidays which occur around early October. Halloween is far enough distant to not interfere.

To do this soul-searching and re-alignment process, I adopted the Jewish thought. During September I review what was supposed to happen the preceding year. How successful or not was I. Why? What should have been done to avoid failure? Yes, it’s a month of soul-searching and evaluation. Next, is to move ahead to plan what should happen. By the first of October, I have more than some vague ideas. They are “cast in stone,” written down, placed in a file on the main desktop with a quarterly progress checkup. (Now, this is getting serious. Every three months it is necessary to pull up the progress report, review what was planned and whether the goal has been achieved, or if on track to achievement. If not, there had better be a good explanation—which is recorded as well—and what needs be done to get back on the road to success.

Now, when setting goals, I try to avoid big, grandiose things. Climbing Mt. Rainier is not possible without lots of preparation—the little things that are achievable.

For instance, the 2016 goals were set in October of 2015. They included: 1) Finish basic outline to new novel and, 2) Finish research on new novel by Nov. 1. 3) Finish first draft of new novel during NaNoWriMo November challenge before Thanksgiving. 4) Take December off from writing. 5) January, begin firsts edit of new novel. 6) Finish novel by March 31. 7) Apr. Send novel to publisher. 8) Begin research on new novel to write during the November challenge. (Note: A rough storyline was already in place.)

As you see, small, integral steps that are achievable, and at each quarterly review it was possible to come off feeling good about myself. Well, almost. As the story progressed January through March, some additions came to mind requiring more research, and then a move in April to Arizona. Some editing suggestions pushed completion in to July, then August, then … the book went to the publisher and released October 31. Five months late!

The November story? 2015 entry: Select new novel story and begin research April 1. Done.

Yes, there were things planned other than professional, and yes a couple took a hit because of the move, family events, and health issues. They will be right back on the new plan like a paddle ball.

Year after year I see people who want to write that great story in their head, and year after year I see them fail. Why? Because 1) They didn’t plan, 2) Didn’t hold themselves accountable, 3) Made excuses, 4) Wasted time, and 5) Didn’t listen to those who tried to help and encourage them to achieve their dream.

And that leads to the last item on my resolution list: “Dear Editor. Take the wife to lunch or diner when feeling sad or depressed because a client won’t listen. See earlier entry, “Eat healthier.”

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