I’m looking forward to a fresh start.
2013 was a pretty good year. Almost nothing to complain about and it definitely had its fair share of highlights. But, for some reason — maybe 2013’s equally fair share of mediocrity — I’m ready to put this year behind me. Ready to pack up the Christmas lights and look straight ahead.
That’s one of the many nice things about being young — the hopefulness, the optimism, the privilege of still believing the best lies in front of you. I don’t want to take it for granted, because we only get so many New Years and ball drops and midnights when, if only seemingly, everything is new.
Really, the newness is an illusion. Or, at least, a construction.
After all, going from one year to the next is no different than going from one second to the next. The earth tilts imperceptibly on its axis and cities around the world light with the glimmer of fireworks and electric glow. There is no real difference between that minute (11:59 on December 31) and the midnight that comes after. It’s just that we’ve decided as a species that this particular tick of clock hands, this alignment of seasons and heavenly bodies, marks a new freedom. New beginnings. New chances. New birth.
And I like the idea of new birth.
* * *
I have a few resolutions this year, like always. Only, this time, I’m really going to keep them.
Does that sound familiar?
I’ve heard that fewer than 10 percent of our resolutions will be kept this year. That’s pretty dismal, even for this hopeful opportunist.
Last year, my healthy-living goals fell apart pretty quickly in the cold months of the new year, picked up again in the summer, then fizzled out come late autumn. I did manage to write a lot — pretty vague, I know — and I did improve on some of my spiritual disciplines, so praise God for sustaining me there.
I say this as a preface to encouragement, and a few bits of advice. Things I’ve learned after odd years of big plans foiled and a few big goals achieved, or half-achieved.
1. Narrow down the list: I used to think having a bunch of resolutions was best. If I had 20, I was going to keep at least a few of them, right? With so many resolutions, some of them would surely be kept, if only by pure accident.
But no. Too many resolutions just gives you a lot more tasks to think about and a lot more areas to come up short. Instead, I’m trying this: do one or two small things, and one or two big things. I love aiming high, but if you’re taking your resolutions seriously, don’t overload with impossibly huge things. Don’t try to lose thirty pounds, cut out pop, climb a mountain in China and Tanzania, and write a handwritten letter every day. (Besides, if you max out on one goal, you can always start on a new one.)
A few modest goals and one goal in the go-big category. Seems attainable, yeah?
2. Put up reminders: This helps me like crazy. If I write the things I want to do down on notecards or sticky notes, if I see them everyday, I’m much more likely to persevere. And, maybe after a month or two or ten, the steps toward your goal will become a habit, and you won’t need the in-your-face reminders on the refrigerator. But there’s a weird power in writing it down. The act of writing makes you remember, makes it more real.
And writing it down can make it more concrete. If you resolve to “get out of your comfort zone” or “be kinder to yourself” this year, write down specific actions you can take to achieve this. If you leave your resolutions in vague mantras, you might not know if or when you’ve accomplished them. Basically, know what your resolutions mean ahead of time, because if you don’t know now, you might not recognize it later.
3. Keep accountable: Tell somebody your goal for 2014. If telling yourself your goal via notecards has power, telling a friend or family member has way more. Letting others know your goals will also help you keep your head on straight about the whole thing. You’re less likely to tell your friend that your plan for the year is to learn two language, get washboard abs and make a million dollars than you are to, well, just be reasonable.
So, reasonability, reminders, accountability.
* * *
Now, as millions upon millions of fleshy Americans flood the gym this January, try to not be one of those who bails.
No empty promises this New Year’s Eve. No half-hearted notes to self.
Sure, lose weight, be healthier, run a marathon, drink less coffee, learn a language, learn the guitar, take a photograph everyday, get a boyfriend, get a promotion, quit smoking, quit porn, stop looking in the mirror so often, turn the phone off during meals, read your booklist, make mo’ money, give away more money, watch less TV, watch more TV, sleep more, write more, pray more. But not all of those things at once, and not to the point where you forget why you’re doing it.
Have your reasons — your own reasons, not your girlfriend’s or your boss’s reasons — and keep those in mind.
This whole New Years Resolution thing has a good purpose, but remember it’s part of a much bigger life, which has its own much grander purpose.
And, let me leave you with this, because it’s so important and so true. It hearkens back to what I said about the new beginning of January 1 being an illusion. What you need to know is that there is nothing special about the first day of a new year. There is no magic in it that isn’t also in the second day or third or three-hundred-and-sixty-fourth.
What’s the importance of that?
Well, it’s important because it means, as long as you’re breathing, you always have the chance of a new beginning. If you don’t shed the weight on your first go, don’t give up. If you don’t finish writing that book within your timeframe, don’t throw it aside. If you don’t kick the habit in January, don’t say, “I’ll try again next year.” Try again right then. Try in February, or March, or whenever you can.
Mercy and grace are new every morning. Each day, each second, is a chance to change. Don’t lock yourself into the New Years Day now-or-never lie. Remember that this moment — the moment you’re in right now — might be the moment when everything becomes new.