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December 1, 2008 / thatsarahdean

Icon of the month: New Years’ Resolutions

First published in Third Way magazine, Winter 2008

Modern advent is less a period of waiting, fasting and expectation, and more a brandy butter smothered slippery slope into total excess. All moderation is gone and by Christmas eve, your five-a-day has dwindled to cherry brandy, the “festive cranberry mayo” in your Boots Meal deal, and a chocolate orange. Christmas Day is a 6000-calories-in-one-sitting celebration, when your only act of self-sacrifice is opting to sit on a garden chair, so that Grandad can sit on the sofa. On New Year’s Eve people are so relieved to be away from their families that they progress at an alarmingly rate from sophisticatedly sipping mulled wine to downing pints of flaming Sambuca. New Year’s day dawns invariably overcast and grey, and feeling fat, hung over and regretful we make vows of self-improvement and resolve to change our ways. Given these circumstances, it should come as no surprise then that in a recent survey of New Year’s resolutions, 60% had been broken within the first month, (25% in the first week) and everyone had given by up the beginning of April.

The most popular New Year’s resolutions in 2007 were to  “lose weight” and “be a nicer person”. Losing weight is easy following your month of Christmas gluttony –  just eat normally! Instead of having 22 Miniature Heroes, a chocolate Santa and a satsuma for breakfast, just have Weetabix.(Or Weetabix and the satsuma if you like.)  The pounds should start falling off. Being a nicer person is more difficult, as progress is harder to measure particularly if you don’t go around tripping up the blind and giving Chinese burns to bus drivers in the first pace. Also you can be devious to succeed. Instead of thinking ”Esther is a self-obsessed cow”, think “It is a fact that Esther is a self-obsessed cow.” You will instantly feel better about yourself – you are not a sniping harpy, you are a speaker of truth! And this keeps your resolution of niceness in tact…sort of.

January is named after the Roman god of new beginnings, Janus. He rather handily had two faces, one looking back to the past and one looking forward to the future. Traditionally on January first the Romans reflected on the past year, forgave their enemies and made vows committing to moral and fair behaviour, as well as exchanging gifts as a sign of new beginnings. This practice of new year’s resolutions were modified by early Christians, who liked the self-improvement goals and forgiveness, but chose to bung in a bit more prayer and fasting.

For your 2009, look no further than Jonathan Edwards for inspiration. (Not the triple jumper, the eighteenth century Calvinist theologian. although who can say hand on heart that they don’t need to improve their hopping, stepping and jumping?) To ensure that he would glorify God in every area of his life and improve himself spiritually, Edwards compiled a list of 70 resolutions. A majority are repetitive reminders to check whether he has sinned, and if he has to ensure that he gives himself a jolly good talking to.

However there are some gems. The alarming -“Resolved when I feel pain to think of the pains of martyrdom and of hell.”  The dower – “Never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day.” (Something that the writers of Last of the Summer Wine have managed to stick to in recent years)  And it seems that even Jonathan Edwards struggled with being a nicer person – “Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except that I have particular good call for it” Perhaps he too had a friend called Esther, who was a self-obsessed cow?

Experts (psychologists, counsellors, and loud men who charge people to shout at them and call themselves a life coach,) say the key to successful self-improvement is to take time to draw up a plan of action first. (Jonathan Edwards spent 2 years making his list of 70 resolutions.) Secondly they recommend that life-changing decisions shouldn’t be made in a hurry. So this year don’t make a snap decision with a bleary head on New Year’s Day, give yourself until..oh….25th February, that’s when Lent begins.

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