Humans have been proclaiming New Year's resolutions for millenia. The origins of this idiosyncratic ritual emerged 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia - at the dawn of a new crop year, people pledged to return borrowed objects and pay their debts in the hope that their gods would bless them with fortune over the ensuing twelve months. The Romans continued to propagate this custom by vowing to practice good conduct at the beginning of each year, and the adherents of Christianity and Judaism furthered it over the centuries until it became the casual tradition practiced by so many folks in the west today.
New Year's resolutions nowadays are often based around the notion of self-improvement - the most popular vows made at the start of 2015 were to lose weight, get organized, save more money, and enjoy life to the fullest (1). These promises are not exactly world-shattering in terms of ambition. Thus it is rather intriguing that the majority of them do not survive the year. According to a study involving 3,000 subjects, a whopping 88% of people were unable to follow through on their pledges in 2007 (2).
The usual reasons listed for failure are that most New Year's resolutions are too vague, and that the secret to success lies in a step-wise plan consisting of incrementally defined goals. Seems sensible at a glance. Yet perhaps the issue with these resolutions is not that they are vague. Perhaps the real problem is that they are just too mundane - they're not inspiring enough, and so they are broken.
So forget about making those same old, uninspiring New Year's resolutions. Instead, let's consider the main game and talk about life resolutions, promises that involve real change.
Number One - Stay Young
Remind yourself to stay young, at all times.
It's no secret that the body ages, and yet the essential you only only ages if you allow yourself to do so. Many people associate aging with wrinkles and other physical infirmities. They may use their aging body as an excuse to stop doing certain things. Some look forward to retirement, a time of foreseen rest and relaxation. However, these things are all chosen mindsets. Wrinkles do not need to be fussed over or covered up; they are a sign of an aging body, not an aging spirit. Moreover, there are plenty of octagenarians who travel all over the world and run marathons; an older body still contains plenty of potential, so best not to indulge those folks who all-too-often choose to sit on the porch and live in the nostalgic past of their "good old days." Furthermore, the concept of retirement as a time of rest is an illusion; it's better to see it as a continuance of new experiences and challenges that compose the crucial latter stages of the unique song that is your life. Regardless of age, people who believe that they have thought enough and learned enough in life have guaranteed themselves a sure path to oblivion, to becoming "the ghost that blamed the living man" as so ominously penned in the poem Growing Old by Matthew Arnold (3).
In his book Wisdom of Our Fathers: Timeless Life Lessons on Health, Wealth, God, Golf, Fear, Fishing, Sex, Serenity, Laughter, and Hope (4), author Joe Kita compiled the life experiences of 138 fathers ranging in age from 40 to 92 for a cumulative 8,870 years of knowledge. Here are three quotes regarding aging from the voices of experience.
"No one ever told me how little you change inside. One's 12-year-old self and one's present self feel exactly the same." - Wilfrid Sheed, 68, author and survivor of polio, addiction, and cancer (father to three)
"Never hang around people who use age as an excuse." - Harry Scott, 65, US Masters bodybuilding champ (father to three)
"The day your curiosity dies, your life is over." - Rod Steiger, 73, actor (father to one).
It's a choice. Don't let yourself grow truly old.
Number Two - Pursue The Impossible
Keep your impossible dream alive, at all times.
The impossible dream is often belittled as unrealistic, but its true value is in providing a guiding light in life. While it may be practically satisfying to achieve smaller goals and dreams, it is the impossible dream, the one that may never be realized, that will often "remain a man's guiding ideal" as pondered in the book Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini (5). The impossible dream keeps you excited and curious about the world. The impossible dream instructs you on the patience and courage of waiting, about holding out for the right road rather than the expedient road. The impossible dream provides inspiration and hope, which may be all that keeps you going some days. Sure, achieving the impossible dream may seem unrealistic when one considers it as a single goal to be achieved at a certain point in space and time, but if that were its true nature then the dream would no longer be impossible. By definition, the impossible dream is vague and difficult to envision in its entirety, and the path to it is certain to be fraught with numerous mistakes and failures. Yet even the most unattainable visions can be acted upon right now in some way and at some level, and mistakes and failures should be welcomed as the opportunities for improvement that they really are. There is no reason not to embark on the path to the impossible dream - at the very least, it will help guide you in life. Start now. Here are three more quotes regarding dreams from the voices of experience (4).
"Having big goals, like going to the moon or travelling at the speed of sound, keeps you interested, challenged, and excited about life." - Miller Quarles, 83, president of the Curing Old-Age Disease Society and geophysicist (father of three)
"Many people are afraid to make mistakes, when in fact, they should welcome them and learn to benefit from them." - Jim Law, 65, sprinter and psychology professor (father of two)
"Dream big and dare to fail." - Norman Vaughan, 93, explorer and author (father of two)
This year - this life - don't be afraid to pursue your impossible dream, and if you find it, remember to share it with others.
References (1) Statistics Brain Research Institute website. 2015. http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/. (2) BBC News website. 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7162692.stm. (3) Arnold M. 1867. Growing Old. http://www.bartleby.com/254/116.html. (4) Kita. J. 1999. Wisdom of Our Fathers: Timeless Life Lessons on Health, Wealth, God, Golf, Fear, Fishing, Sex, Serenity, Laughter, and Hope. Daybreak Books. (5) Sabatini R. 1922. Captain Blood. Houghton Mifflin Company.