The practice of making New Year’s Resolutions is a long one. According to Wikipedia and the history books, ancient Babylonians promised their gods every year that they would return the things they previously borrowed and pay their debts. The Romans would begin later years by making their promises to Janus, the two-faced deity from whom we get the name for the month of January.
So, if you’re making resolutions to lose weight, or pay your taxes – all your taxes, or to stop texting while driving – you’re hardly alone. Consider a few of the resolutions some Birminghamians are offering up for the coming year:
“I resolve to do less in 2013; relax, slow down, learn to rest, have a Sabbath every once in a while,” said Kate Anderson, of Woodlawn. “I guess you could say that’s not much of a resolution, but I’m serious and intentional about cutting myself some slack. Most years, I make a list of things to do — run 3 miles every day, eat more veggies , work harder, read more often, find a hobby. But none of those things will top the list this year, or even be on the list, for that matter. Instead, I resolve to trade those things in for bigger glasses of wine, frequent trips to the spa, deeper breaths, an extra vacation. 2013 may be the best year yet!”
Carolanne Roberts, a contributing editor at Southern Living magazine, resolved to try new things “One a week. It may be a new dish, a new topic to write about, a new person to explore, a new place near my doorstep or, with luck, even farther away. Time will tell.”
Author Julie Williams of Southside resolves “to figure out what the heck my next book is going to be about. My publisher is after me to come up with a new book topic, but unfortunately her idea of a good book topic and my idea of a good book topic don’t quite match at present. Having just come off a year of speaking about my current book, A Rare Titanic Family (about my great-uncle, who survived the Titanic along with his wife and baby), I realize that my publisher and I are both suffering from the dreaded “no topic will ever be as popular as the Titanic” syndrome. My goal is to beat that syndrome! Does anyone have any ideas?”
Prince Cleveland, a data technician at J.L. Morgan and Associates, said his resolution for the Birmingham metropolitan area is that all cities and communities in the region take a more proactive approach to cooperate with each other. We all should engage in more regional cooperation as it pertains to transit, economic development, healthcare and other services vital to building vibrant communities.
Pamela Cook, the general sales manager for WUHT Hot 107.7 and WZRR 99.5 The Vibe of Cumulus Media, resolved to find a balance between work, family, and fun.
Helen Todd, owner of Helen2O:Fluid Communications, said her resolutions were both personal and business-focused. “While I’m not crazy about the term ‘resolution,’ I do have some definite goals for the new year: As president this year of the Birmingham Canoe Club, I want to better promote paddle sports in our community [and] provide information on how people can access, learn and approach it as a family activity. Many people don’t even know that there are beautiful rivers and creeks within a 30-minute drive of downtown Birmingham.
“As a new business owner, with my own website and blog at Helen2O.com, my other goal is share my opinion and have a voice. Some may not agree with it, but for far too long I think many of us in the community have been complacent. There are sane rational voices in the area and we can talk about more than football.”
Like Todd, Natasha Rogers, who works in communications for Railroad Park, considered both her city and herself: “My 2013 New Year’s resolution is for our great city to continue its growth and economic development. This will help create more jobs for our residents and make Birmingham a true area to live, work and play. I want other regions of the country to marvel at how we have successfully moved passed our turbulent past to create a brighter and successful future for all.
“As for me, I’m a work in progress. I am going to continue to fight this battle of the bulge and expand my mind through education and travel. As far as Railroad Park goes, I want it to continue to be a catalyst for economic development in and around its surrounding area, a melting pot for all races to enjoy and a symbol of progress for generations to come.”
Weld’s Online Editor Walt Lewellyn, who recently wrote about the need to support Birmingham’s music culture, resolved to take the matter in hand: “I’m going to treat Birmingham artists and venues with the same level of excitement and critical analysis I would any out-of-town act. By contributing to a stronger community of writers on music–something Sam George and You Hear This? have made great strides toward doing–we not only elevate the level of discourse and seriousness about Birmingham culture, we also strengthen the bonds that keep a small scene vibrant. If I don’t do my part, then I never should have written that cover story. Will it help? I’m not sure, but that’s my hope, and that’s my resolution.”
All good. But why does the tradition of making resolutions at the start of the year persist? Perhaps because a new year is an easy time to do it.
“It’s the beginning of a new year,” said Josh Klapow, Ph.D, a psychologist in the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It’s what going to happen to in the year to come. It’s an opportunistic time to think about, and hopefully make, change.”
But if it seems to you that more resolutions are made than kept, Klapow said you’re not wrong. “The vast majority of people will make some sort of a resolution on New Year’s or shortly before, and the vast majority of people will not stick with it. Depending on the type of resolution, you see it starting to fade anywhere from a couple of weeks in to about 10 weeks or 12 weeks in,” he said. “Most folks will not keep it, and to me, the saddest thing is, you see folks making the same resolution every year because they have not been able to stick with it. Sort of a waste of time.”
So is it healthy – mentally — to make resolutions year after year? Klapow said that it can be, under certain circumstances.
“Making change – a resolution is nothing more than a promise to yourself to do something differently,” he said. “As a behavioral scientist, we like to operationalize everything, turn words and thoughts into behaviors, so when you resolve to do something and you resolve to do something differently, you’re resolving to change your behavior.
“That’s a good thing. It keeps people growing. It keeps them flexible and dynamic. I think the real question is, is it a good thing to do it on December 31 for the rest of the year?”
Klapow said that many people “get caught up in the fanfare of making resolutions on New Year’s Eve and they really sort of make resolutions that are not well thought-out, not very heartfelt and are not likely to succeed. So nothing’s wrong with making a resolution. It’s just, when you’re making it, you should know how to make it, and you should ask yourself the question, ‘Is this the time that I’m ready to commit to it,’ not just, ‘Is it New Year’s Eve?’”
How, then, can you resolve to make changes and actually achieve them? Klapow said there are three main strategies, which he outlined in Living SMART: Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever, a book he wrote four years ago with Sheri Pruitt, Ph.D., of Kaiser-Permanente.
“You need to think about resolutions as goals. That’s what they are,” he said. “ And there are some things that we know from the science that absolutely will help you achieve your goals. So when you think about a resolution, the first thing you want to think about is, is it specific? Is it what we call quantifiable?
“I’ll give you an example: ‘I resolve to be healthier’ is a great idea, but it’s not a specific goal. Or ‘I resolve to improve my relationships’ or ‘I resolve to spend less money.’ All those sorts of things are good thoughts, but they don’t give you a roadmap for action. And if you don’t have a roadmap for action, you’re already set up to fail. So the first thing is whatever you resolve to do, turn it into something as specific as possible. That’s really important.
“The second thing is, and it runs counter to a lot of our American culture – our culture is ‘shoot for the stars, push yourself harder, reach beyond your limits.’ That’s great, but it also sets you up for failure. So what we tell people is that your resolution should be one that is reachable. And the way you know its reachable is you simple ask yourself the question, ‘Am I sure I can achieve this?’ If the answer is, ‘No, I’m not sure,’ then your resolution should be backed off and should be simpler.
“So make it very specific, make it reachable, and then, really, the other thing is make yourself accountable to somebody or something. So whether it’s a contract with yourself, whether it’s a spouse or significant other, pull people into your pledge, because having that accountability will help you achieve it.”
Klapow, who appears on CBS 42’s Wake Up Alabama every Thursday on a segment called Taking Control with Dr. Josh, will be talking on that show every week through the end of January about sticking with New Year’s resolutions.
For many, too, a new year is a new time to think about what should change for us as a community. Consider Weld Publisher Mark Kelly’s suggestion in his Red Dirt column in this very issue. Others likewise have some ideas about improving Birmingham this year.
Pamela Cook of Cumulus Media said, “I would love to see a ‘Birmingham the Beautiful’ campaign. Other cities take incredible pride in their area. We can do the same in Birmingham. It just needs leadership to get it started.”
Ahmad Ward, Head of Education at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, said his resolution for Birmingham “would be that the city will finally recognize its place of importance as a landmark city in American history, in regards to its national and international impact on civil and human rights.”
Writer, editor, author, and public speaker Nancy Dorman-Hickson had some literary thoughts about how Birmingham should spend 2013. “If I had the power to make a resolution/solution for Birmingham, I would resolve that more programs such as the Birmingham Public Library’s Bards & Brews be created and supported by our community,” she said. “This monthly event invites local poets to present their words to a diverse audience (urban/suburban, white/black/Hispanic, young/old, etc.) while offering free custom-made beer.
“Getting to know one another, communicating, and having fun with each other gets us past our differences and points out our commonalities,” Dorman-Hickson said. “May 2013 be the year Dr. Martin Luther King’s words resonate and find true meaning among all of God’s children.”
If you have a resolution, share it with us in the comments here. If you don’t, you could check out Chicago-based graphic designer Monina Velarde’s “resolution generator”, which she created for those who either want to take their resolutions from the contributions of others, or contribute their own. The generator randomly tosses out resolutions like “Make.More.Money,” “Keep My Family Safe,” and “Watch the Sunset.”
If that doesn’t do it for you, well, there’s always next year.