By Melanie Hackett
It’s happening again. Fireworks are lighting the skies all around the globe. The ball is dropping. People are writing down everything that is going to change with this new beginning. But what exactly is the significance of the New Year?
For most, it’s a clean slate. People are comforted by the idea of a chance to start fresh, erase the mistakes and bad things of the past, celebrate the accomplishments, and resolve to make positive changes starting – mañana!
In reality, most of us realize that New Year’s resolutions typically don’t make it through the first month. It is after all a wee bit irrational to believe that things can just change at the drop of a hat – or a ball in this case. But it is a global starting point for people to reflect on their lives and the changes they want to make, to talk about it, and to participate in something that makes their resolutions seem to sink in.
My mother has always said, “New Year’s resolutions are silly. If I am not pleased with something in my life, I will change it NOW, and not wait until the New Year!” And kudos to her! To change old habits can be extremely difficult and not everyone can do it without some kind of starting point, and even then, we have to work extremely hard not to fall back into the same habits. That is why so many people make resolutions at this time of year. It brings people hope and confidence that they can implement the changes they want to see in themselves or their lives.
For me, New Year’s always held special significance. Our coach for competitive Irish Dancing taught us to reflect on our accomplishments over the past year, and to write out the goals that eluded us or new goals that we wished to achieve in the coming year, as well as a strict plan on how we would aim to do that. My plan would include monthly, weekly and daily strategies, outlining in detail the changes I was committed to making in order to improve my skills at a faster rate. Sometimes, we had to bring these goals in to the first class. Other years, we brought our papers in prepared to share them with the class, only to be told that we were going to get straight to work and start sweating – hard! We would then be required to glue our goals to our mirrors so we would be forced to look at them every morning. But in the end, I think we were all going to work as hard as we already did, whether or not a new year came. The results we wanted to see were much stronger motivating factors than the change from December to January. Similarly, the reason for wanting to make any resolution and the results of the change should be motivating in itself, because ultimately we are not motivated by the change from one day to the next even if it is a new year.
This year, I’ve been struggling with the task of writing down New Year’s resolutions. I don’t anymore compete in the sport that consumed my entire existence, where goals and successes were very well defined. Now, like most people in their twenties, the direction of my life is a little more vague. So instead, I am reflecting on the reasons why it was so important to me, and many others, to come up with resolutions before that ball drops. In the world of highly competitive athletes, it is easy to be defined by your accomplishments, especially in the elite levels. This is particularly true when athletes are children or adolescents with brains that are developing, and their self-identities are only just forming. When 110 percent of their focus is towards reaching a specific goal, as is necessary if they are to succeed in elite sports, they cannot build all of the other elements that make up a healthy self-identity. Essentially, they can become defined by a number – the value of their top placement.
And what is the New Year? It is also just a number; a day like any other. It only holds the meaning we decide to attach to it. So rather than expecting ourselves to be able to change things that we haven’t yet managed to change and being disappointed that an arbitrary number did not change anything at all, why not frame this New Year simply in terms of hope for a good next cycle of the seasons. Why not simply resolve to enter into a future that can be satisfying even though it lacks everything that we may desire; a future that offers hope that if we cannot change certain things, that we will be at peace with the unavoidable rougher times we will all face within the next journey around the sun?
Tonight, for the first time since I can remember, I will not be writing down any resolutions. I will raise my glass of Glühwein high, and toast to the continuation of this ongoing journey through time, resolving to celebrate the good things each day and to enjoy a future that has hope even with the inevitable challenges life will bring. Happy New Year!