Now before people start commenting that the title of this piece is an oxymoron because the very notion of New Year’s on January 1st is not even Jewish, please remember a bit of Jewish teaching. Jewish tradition has recognized the idea of multiple New Year’s celebrations for years – at least since the time of the Mishna, which records four observances of four different annual cycles for four distinct purposes, ranging from political to spiritual to agricultural.
Whatever one thinks about New Year’s, New Year’s celebrations, or the practice of making New Year’s resolutions, they are all beautiful customs when done well and there is Biblical and Jewish wisdom which can help us make good on those important resolutions as we progress through the new year. Here are six tips to help you do so:
First, trust the power of your words. The words we say really can change our realties, and simply declaring that we hope to do things differently this coming year, can make a real difference in our lives. That insight is as old as Genesis itself. Recall the powerful story of things being brought into reality by declaring them e.g. “let there be light, and there was light”.
Second, be modest in your aspirations. You don’t have to fix everything at once, so pick one attainable goal and really pursue it. The Talmud teaches that when we grasp for too much, we end up with nothing at all. But, if we pick a goal to which we can really hold on, we need never let it go.
Third, just do it. Whether it’s getting to the gym, eating healthier, spending less money, or any of the other popular resolutions, just start doing it and let your emotions about what you are doing catch up with your practice. In Hebrew, we call that na’aseh v’nishma, first we do and then we hear. It really works.
Fourth, don’t go it alone. No different from communal worship or major building projects, when it comes to personal growth, there are heights which we can only attain with the support of other like-minded friends. Find a supportive community which will encourage you to keep going even when you want to give up on your resolutions.
Fifth, distinguish the practice from the desired result. Eating healthier and losing weight are two different things. While both may be desirable, you only have complete control over the first. Whether you loose weight or not, eating healthier is valuable in its own right (lishma in rabbinic language) and the same can be said for going to the gym and “looking better”. Focus on the value of the practice, and whatever happens you will feel better and be better.
Sixth, give yourself time off for good behavior. Except for chemical addictions, taking an occasional break from our new practices can actually help us stay committed to them over time. Think of it as a Sabbath. But like Sabbath, if you find that your time off exceeds 1/7th of your time, you need to get back to your resolution, pronto!