New Year – ‘one shot’ resolutions and don’t worry how you feel at midnight

new yearNew year is expectation-tastic with its contradictory pressures of having a stonking New Year’s Eve, and then a sanctimonious fresh start on New Year’s Day.  The fantasy is that suddenly, all those things we wanted to be but fell short of last year will suddenly click into place.

In my 20s the focus was mostly on plans for the night of New Year’s Eve. I once spent a New Year on my own. It was great. I made myself spaghetti and wrote a short story. It was good because I had the choice though. Like most things, if you can decide to do something it feels better than if the situation is inescapable. I was alone but I didn’t feel lonely, and I had the luxury of knowing that if I did I could probably run out into the night and find a friend at short notice.

The opposite of loneliness is connection, which we can feel with people even if they aren’t with us, but which is harder to feel when we’re under threat, or when black and white dichotomies in viewpoint make overlaps in perspective harder to spot. Power, territory, and certainty, featured heavily in many of 2018’s conversations instead of curiosity, explanation and a search for connection. I think many of the consequences of those conversations were all the worse for that.

Now that I’m solidly in my late 30s the question of what I’m doing for New Year gets asked much less, but questions about New Year’s resolutions remain.

One view is that New Year is just another day. This might sound like a negative but actually I see it in reverse: we can change things any day we like. Each day, each hour, each moment can be a fresh beginning. The reality of making changes is that it doesn’t happen once and stick. If it did we’d all be doing it. It’s a process, a cycle going round and round as we fall off whatever wagon we’re on and struggle back on again. For me this year I hope to work on many of the same things as last year, and the year before that. That’s not failing, it’s living a life and thinking about it as you go.

The pressure for New Year to be happy, like the pressure for Christmas to be the same, can mean it’s harder to feel contented and easier to feel disappointed or lacking. It’s just another moment though, and whatever we feel at the stroke of midnight on the first of January we can be sure it will be transient.

An interesting alternative view to New Year’s resolutions comes from Lee & Dai’s (2017) paper on how temporal landmarks affect motivation. They found that people do make more changes after time landmarks like the start of a year or just after a birthday. The authors concluded that these landmarks can be helpful, for encouraging a sense of “fresh start” – a sort of ‘line in the sand’ between our old and new selves. The study findings showed that it was hard for people to stick to a change though, and the authors concluded that it might be more helpful to pick a “one shot goal” to take advantage of that spike in motivation that we might get from a new year, or even a new month or week.

Whatever you get up to for New Year, however you feel on the bong of midnight, and whether you pick a goal you want to bosh in the first few weeks of 2019 or not, Happy New Year from me.

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