Over the last month, like many others around the world, I have been pondering what resolutions I should make going into 2016. After rejecting at least a dozen as unrealistic (exercising 30 minutes a day), inconsequential (quitting my decades-old nail-biting habit), or just silly (learning to hula hoop), I started wondering why I felt so much pressure to make new year’s resolutions at all. They seem ubiquitous in modern American culture, and I have followed the tradition without question my whole life – writing a list of resolutions in my journal at the beginning of the year and checking back periodically to track progress. But often, and I know I’m not alone in this, I make little or no progress and end up repeating the resolution the next year (for example, I still can’t speak Portuguese!).
It turns out, the tradition of making resolutions is not a modern invention but actually has a long history. More than 4,000 years ago, ancient Babylonians marked the passage of time with a 12-day festival at the beginning of March, where they reaffirmed their loyalty to the king (or crowned a new one) and made promises to their gods to garner favor and fortune in the year ahead (reportedly, a common resolution was to get out of debt). Today’s celebrations are more secular (Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII moved New Year’s Day to January 1), but they still involve making a promise to improve something in the hopes that the new year will be better than the last.
I am extremely happy in my life at the moment, which makes it particularly difficult to find things I want to change. My greatest wish is that everything would stay the same in 2016! Unfortunately, change is inevitable, and mostly uncontrollable. Even though I know this to be true, I insist on resisting change. This resistance comes mostly from fear of the unknown. Especially now that I have kids, I am extremely reluctant to step out of my comfort zone or to take on tasks I’m not sure I can complete.
Not so long ago I interviewed prisoners in rural Brazilian jails and sang on stage in front of 35,000 people. Just a couple of years (and a couple of kids) later, I’m afraid to commit to a girls’ night out because what if my baby is sick and needs me or I spend too much on drinks and then can’t afford my toddler’s birthday party? I used to stress about real threats, like an upcoming exam, a persistent headache, or a bad break-up. These days I can become overwhelmed with imagined threats – am I hindering my toddler by not putting him in pre-school, is a tree going to fall on our house, do I visit my grandmother enough, …?
My resolution for 2016 is to be less fearful. Hopefully this will translate into being more courageous and taking more risks (like dragging my family to the other side of the world to explore Cambodia and Thailand, which sounds awesome but also terrifying). At least, I hope it will mean less stress. Rather than being the “pre-crastinator” who anticipates and plans for all possible problems (since that is impossible), I am going to try to take an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach. I will not look for issues where there are none, and I will try to appreciate this great stage of my life.