Column: How to avoid the wrath of the gods while making your New Year’s resolution

It’s been a year since I last made any New Year’s resolutions, and I don’t remember what they were, or if, in fact, I even made any.

New Year’s resolutions, historically, are springboards for failure. A study has shown that 80% of them fail, and most of them fail in February, a month when the shine has tarnished on the already-aging and tiresome year and resolvers are forced to admit “Who am I kidding? I’m not going to give up chocolate, and certainly not after this 63-piece box of Coffret Maison assorted chocolate suddenly arrived on the table next to my chair.”

It’s the absoluteness of many resolutions that kill them in their infancy:

Give up smoking? Forever?

Go vegan? Does that include bacon?

Lose 80 pounds? Well, then, I’ll have to take up smoking.

Four thousand years ago, when Babylon was the center of civilization, such as it was, New Year’s resolutions were easier to keep. Babylonians celebrated the beginning of a new year in what we now consider to be March, when the growing season began. Celebrants made promises to the gods to settle the books by paying off debts and returning borrowed goods to their owners, two resolutions that many of us, including my neighbors, might consider making for 2021.

The reason those ancient resolutions were easy to keep was when debts were repaid and chipped flint drills were returned, the gods would bless those who did the right thing with good fortune throughout the year. If scores weren’t settled, on the other hand, the gods would be, shall we say, disappointed, and the only way to cheer them up again and avoid disaster, would be through human sacrifice.

Employ that sort of pressure today and you’d be amazed at how quickly those extra pounds disappear.

One of the problems with maintaining 365 days of New Year’s resolve is maybe you enjoy smoking or eating whatever you please or not working out at the gym, and too suddenly and for the long, long year (or, ideally, permanently), stopping smoking or starting dieting or quitting not working out at the gym becomes a punishment of sorts and, at least 80% of the time, you’re going to feel like going back to your old, more companionable, ways, wrath of the gods and the guilt of failure be damned.

There are experts and studies that suggest that, rather engage in a resolution of self-flagellation, you instead strive for betterment by resolving to improve yourself in some manner other than abstinence.

The most popular categories of New Year’s resolutions are physical health, weight loss and eating habits and finance, but if you don’t find those attractive, why not take up, say, the ukulele? It’s not a daunting task and you should be able to succeed in your endeavor by St. Patrick’s Day, after which there won’t be a party that can be termed a success without one of your delightful performances.

A COVID year is a good time to take up a resolution that’s, in the argot of resolution researchers, “approach-oriented” rather than “avoidance-oriented.” We have all sacrificed plenty through most of 2020, and we’re not going to be dancing in the streets anytime soon, but while you’re stuck at home, it’s an excellent opportunity to enrich yourself.

I spent the first 80 days of the initial COVID stay-home order becoming an entry-level renaissance man, killing time by taking up yoga, painting, Spanish, tent-repair, calligraphy, duct-tape wallet-making, TikTok videography, meditation, HTML coding, baking, tiki-drink bartending and mask-making. What’d you do, cut back on Pall Malls and buy a Peloton?

Our resolutionologists maintain that the success rate is much higher when you resolve to acquire new skills and talents for the obvious reason that it’s more rewarding to learn something useful than it is to forego something desirable; or, more pleasantly put, it’s easier to acquire an additional thing to love than to cease doing something that you enjoy.

Of course, all of this is meant solely for people who want to finally succeed in their New Year’s resolutions. You perhaps could stand to lose a little weight and cut down on drinking and smoking and hitting the gym now and then, just don’t make it an official New Year’s resolution or you may disappoint yourself, or, worse, disappoint the gods, and that won’t end well.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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