They do not work.
As most of you already know, using January 1 as the beginning of the year is an arbitrary cultural idea. For example, we could start when Mother Nature declares it springtime and flowers and plants burst forth from the fallow ground. Yet this renewal occurs at different times of the year in different climates, so perhaps it is for the best just to pick a date and agree upon it. What “we” have agreed upon is that we use the Roman/Christian calendar, beginning each year on the first day of the month of January.
The details of this choice notwithstanding, it has become accepted custom almost universally, even if in combination with the Buddhist or Hebrew or other calendars. On that date, there are worldwide celebrations. There is also the ubiquitous custom of making New Years’ resolutions. It is my impression that most of these in the United States involve health and weight. “I will exercise more, start a new diet, or go to that doctor’s appointment I have been putting off.” Also there is a slew of “I will be kinder, more thankful and treat others better.” And many “I will find my soul mate or at least a mate this year.”
For most of us, these resolutions last a few days or perhaps a few weeks, perhaps until the gym membership expires, although that is usually long after the exercising has been neglected. There is a very good and very human reason for these lapses and it lies in our makeup and not in any character weaknesses. It is almost impossible to make a resolution, the motivation for which will last for 365 days. It is not realistic and it is not even human. No form of psychotherapy would attempt a behavioral change that lasts a year without any other intervention.
Instead why not try an alternative that recognizes each day as an opportunity for a new beginning, giving yourself the option to awaken each day and live that day mindfully. I am fully aware that mindfulness has become a cultural prescription for almost everything that ails us emotionally or spiritually. There are so many groups in which to practice mindfulness meditation that I could not even attempt to count them. In fact, joining such a group may be a New Year’s resolution for many of you. Some of you will even keep it up for several months and a few for longer.
I want to make an alternative and simpler proposal. Mindfulness does not require a group practice or hours on the pillow. In fact, it can begin as just a minute or two each morning. The first and most important step is simply Noticing. Notice as you awaken how you feel, the room and the people around you. Notice that you have been given another day of precious life. Then make your plan for the next hour or the entire day. As you would think about how to spend a large amount of money or whether to look for a new career, consider something even more precious-how to spend the day you have been given. It could be your last for all you know, so why not live it fully and consciously. It is unfortunate how many people move unconsciously through each hour, each day and, little by little, an entire lifetime.
If it is too difficult for you to notice who you are or if you are or so mired in what seem to be obligations and can’t plan ahead even for an entire day, start with an hour, a minute even. This the human mind/heart can do.
This is your only life. Please do not make any resolutions to pay attention to it. Just do it—mindfully.