Just like Rosh Hashanah, our secular New Year is celebrated by wearing funny hats and blowing horns, but that's where the similarities end. Rosh Hashanah introduces a period of deep self-examination and renewed commitment to fulfill our highest aspirations. In contrast, the secular New Year is popularly imagined as a time for making resolutions to get fit, get organized, or get out of debt that are abandoned or forgotten before the calendar turns to February.
Why do so many New Year's resolutions fail? What can Jusaism teach us about making lasting changes in our lives? Here are a few thoughts:
1) It's Not About You. The biggest difference between the process of t'shuvah associated with the Days of Awe and secular New Year's resolutions is the focus on God versus focus on self. T'shuvah is about reaching toward something beyond oneself, aspiring to find meaning and connecting with a greater purpose for ones life. Your New Year's resolutions are more likely to succeed if they are not just about fulfilling a personal desire, but are motivated by a sincere desire to serve a purpose beyond yourself and to connect with the world around you.
2) Keep It Realistic. A resolution to drop five dress sizes by Presidents Day or to go from couch potato to marathoner is bound to fail. Show some compassion for yourself by keeping your goals realistic. Know your own limitations. Strive for real change, but keep your immediate expectations simple and doable. Become the champion of your own life by giving yourself a chance to succeed.
3) Be Specific About What You Want. Many resolutions fail because people don't really know from the outset what they are striving toward. A resolution that says, "In the coming year, I am going to become closer to my mother," is not nearly as likely to succeed as a resolution that says, "I'm going to visit my mother three times this year and spend a full day focussed just on her with each visit." Again, Jewish tradition teaches that we should be honest and compassionate with ourselves by knowing what we want and pursuing our just and good goals with fervor.
4) Make Room for Your Spiritual Life. In addition to working on what you look like on the outside, think about changes you want to make on the inside. Is this a good time to think about a new commitment to serving others, to deepening your involvement in community, to entering a prayer or meditation pactice? Open yourself from within and reach beyond your self-imposed limitations.
Whatever you choose to do, do it with joy. Ultimately, the change you seek is a change that leads to your own happiness, greater fulfillment, and becoming the person you were meant to be.
Happy New Year.
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