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Blame It On The Babylonians!
~Resolutions from the Past and for the Future!~
 

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.

Where did the idea of resolutions start?  Is the making of resolutions just some type of world-wide conspiracy by the self-help community? Not quite.

According to some very limited research on my part, the Babylonians celebrated New Year’s Day over 4,000 years ago (although their celebration was in March rather than in January, coinciding with the spring planting of crops). Their celebration lasted 11 days. Today’s resolutions are a reflection of the Babylonians’ belief that what a person did on the first day of the New Year would have an effect throughout the entire year. If you acted badly on the first day of the year, your crops would fail, but if you acted well, you would have a prosperous year. And according to historian Charles Panati, the two most apparently popular resolutions by the Babylonians were to pay off outstanding debts and to return all borrowed farm tools and household utensils. (For an even more detailed history of New Year’s celebrations, go to www.goalsguy.com/Events/n_facts.html.)

The Romans (who go back even further than the Babylonians) also paid homage to the beginning of a new year. The god Janus, who was depicted with two faces, was placed on the calendar. One face was to look back at the past year and the other to look forward to the future. He became the symbol for the New Year and its resolutions.

According to Gary Ryan Blair (on the website www.goalsguy.com), the most common resolutions that people make (and ultimately break) are to:

1. Lose weight
2. Stop smoking
3. Stick to a budget
4. Save or earn more money
5. Find a better job
6. Become more organized
7. Exercise more
8. Be more patient at work/with others
9. Eat better
10. Become a better person

The problem with those resolutions is that they are doomed to failure. Accomplishing any of them would be a Herculean task. They are just too grand in scope. The key to succeeding in keeping resolutions is to keep them realistic. If you have made or are considering making any of these resolutions, stop doing it!  The goal in making resolutions is to either create a new good habit or to replace an existing bad habit with a good one. It is about the decision to make better choices.

Regardless of which generation you belong to, time is a fleeting thing. It is one thing that we cannot recover, and there is never enough of it. As we age, we realize that it goes faster and faster. I could hardly believe that it was time to write my resolution article, or that this is my 11th column on resolutions. This year, my resolutions will be about how to use time more wisely.

I’m not trying to find answers anymore.  I’m trying to live what I know.
Phil Jackson

  • Stop beating yourself up. You may be okay just the way you are. While I think it is important to try to change unproductive or even destructive behaviors, it may be time to stop trying to change some habits that are just not that bad and do not cause any real problems in your life. Use the time and energy on more important things. The fact that the top of my desk at home is not that neat does not make me a bad or even a disorganized person. 

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It makes you look silly and really annoys the pig. 
Hallmark Card

  • Stop trying to change other people. We are only responsible for our own behavior. We cannot make people conform to our standards. You will simply have to live with people the way they are. If that is not possible, then you and not the other person need to make a decision about what to do. On a professional level, you can require employees to adhere to certain rules, but you cannot force them to like the idea. If an employee refuses to follow a certain procedure, then you will need to make a decision about his/her employment.

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have , and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
Carl Sandburg

  • Get a PDA [Personal Data Assistant]. I used this one last year before I bought one and now I am even more convinced of its value. It has been a great help in keeping notes and reminders. I carry it with me all the time. It is a real time-saver because I do not have to waste time trying to track down information; I have it with me.

It is never too late to become what you might have been.
George Eliot

  • Never stop changing. Last year, National Public Radio did a wonderful series on centenarians called If I Lived to Be 100. In the yearlong series, Neenah Ellis interviewed people who had all lived to be over 100. At the end of the series, she noted that one similarity she found in each of these people was their desire to talk about the future. They only talked about the past because the reporter wanted information. These were amazing people who talked about future goals, despite being 100 years old.
    The more we look to the future, the more future we have. (For more information, go to www.ifilivetobe100.com/.)

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
Philo of Alexandria

  • Being kind saves time and will make you more profitable. How? Well, it takes just as much time to be kind as it does to be nasty, and being kind will make you feel much better and much less stressed and agitated than will being nasty. And when we feel good, we are more productive and will work better. This will make our employees and our clients happier. This will ultimately result in better work habits and happier clients. Happier clients are paying clients. (For information on how making someone’s day can change the world, go to www.daymakermovement.com.)

You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind
Irish Proverb

  • Successful and well-run practices are not that way by accident. Take a good hard look at your office procedures to make certain that work is being done as efficiently as possible. Make certain that all staff know what is expected and that all are performing effectively. If you need to set new policies, start as soon as possible.
    One policy all solo and small firm practitioners should have is a billing and collection policy. It should be written. All staff should know it and you should share it with all new clients. (For information on policies including billing and collection policies, go to www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm.)

My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions ,but in the fewness of my wants.
J. Brotherton

  • Take a good hard look at your finances. What would happen if you could no longer work? What would happen if someone in your family had a serious illness? What would happen if your home or office were completely destroyed? Do you have the financial resources to handle a disaster? Share this information with your spouse and family. There is a very good site at www.coiningmoney.com/library/spender/nd122596.html#newyear that lists very simple and practical suggestions on improving your financial situation.  Instead of making a resolution to save more money, make a resolution to buy one less espresso or cup of coffee each day (which could actually add up to $1,000 a year).

Finally, two very important ones from previous years:

  • Get Healthy. Start small. Unless you are grossly unhealthy, it is possible to get start getting healthy by making just a few small changes. If you just cut out one doughnut or one bagel with cream cheese every day for a week you would lose a pound. Commit to cutting out 500 calories a day and you will lose a pound a week. You will feel better and be able to accomplish more.

  • Get Happy. A recent report by the American Medical Association indicated that people with positive and optimistic attitudes lived longer and healthier than people with negative or pessimistic attitudes. There is a direct correlation between laughing and staying healthy. For a great resource on laughter and health go to www.kaiserpermanente.org/toyourhealth/hottopics/
    sobel/humor.html
    , or if you are more traditional, try the books Anatomy of an Illness, by Norman Cousins, and The Healing Power of Humor, by Allen Klein.

Again, I want to wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and look forward to seeing all of you at Solo Day at the MSBA Annual Meeting on June 18, 2004. It will change your life.


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