One of the reasons I am not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions is that I object both to the belief that we need a special day or reason to resolve to create change and that effective change involves only a single point in time decision rather than long, hard work. When you add to it the truth that most people expect to fail at their New Year’s Resolution, I have to wonder why we even bother.
Effective change involves a certain amount of fluidity. We might set out, for example, to live a healthier lifestyle and decide we are going to do that by changing our eating habits. Along the way we are likely to find there are other changes we need to make – perhaps getting more sleep, exercising, and making changes in other personal habits, for example – but if we are fixated on our original plan we might never see the other challenges as they present themselves to us. What’s more, the more complex the changes we are looking at the more likely we are to discover unexpected changes in the terrain and so the more fluid we need to be. Is it any wonder that so many New Year’s Resolutions are soon abandoned?
Imagine the possibilities if we decided to have an ongoing purpose that actually reached beyond our own selfish concerns (the subject of most New Year’s Resolutions) such as building better interpersonal relationships in our lives and then simply passed on meaningless, superficial annual resolutions. We could begin by setting meaningful and achievable short-term goals like getting to know the neighbors who live on either side of us. Once we get to know them, we move on to the neighbors two doors down on either side as well as the ones on the other side of the hall or street. In getting to know them we should learn about their families, their children or grandchildren, and the issues that are important to them. We might ask them their opinion of what needs to change locally to make our neighborhood a better place – not major issues, but small, achievable ones. Are we having problems with trash collection? Then we should find out who we can contact and do so. Are people driving recklessly down our street? If so, we should contact the police department about radar patrols. The point is that we should get to know people, understand the challenges we share, and do something to address them. By beginning with small, achievable tasks we gain the experience and confidence we need to move onto larger tasks – and in doing so we create community. We might even find ourselves coming alive!