Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Year?

Liz Reed is the Adult and Information Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Liz's column in the January 8, 2015 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
As the new year blossoms, the trope of New Year's resolutions overwhelm us. We quickly assess our lives and find them lacking just in time for a clean slate. Just like the first fresh page of a new notebook, there's so much opportunity to the new year. Maybe I'll get in shape and lose that weight this year, maybe I'll read "War and Peace," maybe I'll quit smoking, or finally organize my shoe collection. All of these are great ideas but usually by Feb. 1 they end up crumpled in a corner. So how do we make New Year's resolutions stick?

First of all we need to throw out the idea of New Year's resolutions (I know it sounds counterintuitive, just stick with me). The appeal of New Year's for changes is simply an engrained tradition, it's much more difficult to face your problems on a random day of the week. Resolutions for the new year actually go back further than you'd think. The ancient Romans used to make promises of what they would accomplish in the new year to the god Janus: the god of transitions. Their resolutions probably weren't much different from what ours are today. In ancient Babylon there were numerous religious ceremonies that involved promising good deeds and repaid debts in the coming year.

If the centuries haven't changed the tradition of New Year's resolutions, what makes it so we can? Well the very first small change you can make is in not making "New Year's resolutions." The title itself makes it so very easy to drop them like hot potatoes come the first of February. Instead, make a commitment to yourself right now, in this moment. Try new things this year: go white water rafting, take a shot at NaNoWriMo, come into your local library and peruse our selection (and get a library card if you don't have one already -- they're the closest thing you'll get to a magic wand). By focusing on your goal and your own happiness through these small changes, you'll go further than you ever imagined.

Last November I found myself in a horrible place, I didn't like my body, I didn't like my life, and I felt like I had no direction. I had to recognize that I had the power to turn everything around on my own. After a trip to the doctor, which reinforced everything negative that I'd already known, I began working towards making my life what I wanted it to be. It was a hard road and I had to go to this awful place called "the gym" but I managed to lose thirty pounds within the year. I worked my way through some literature lists, wrote a manuscript, applied to graduate school and, through the conscious changing of habits, I managed to change my life. It was not a quick or easy road. I ate clean while dreaming of Taco Bell and I went to the gym while moaning and groaning the whole time. There was no magic formula and I gave up plenty of times (who can resist a frosted donut?) but I got back up. I did this all within a year through small changes and without the title of New Year's resolutions.

One of the biggest problems with New Year's resolutions is that by Feb. 1 they're typically exhausted and hung up until next year. Then we make the same resolutions year after year and wonder why they're not coming true. Unfortunately while New Year's resolutions, by their very definition, have this magical air about them, they aren't magical and they aren't easy. But, to quote the cliché, nothing worth having is easy.

Think about where you want to be a year from this moment and think about how hard you're willing to work to get there. What are the small daily changes you can use to get yourself where you want to be? Time moves faster than you think and a year's worth of reading, travel, or simply cutting down on the Starbucks can really add up. Little changes matter -- especially if done consistently. If you make smaller changes that you know you'll stick to , you are much better off than if you lied to yourself about going to the gym everyday (who does that anyway? That sounds terrible). We are a society of "give it to me yesterday" people and it's hard to stay on track when it feels like torture to eat nothing but salad for a week and be like "Excuse me where is my skinny-ness? I worked all week for this and I should be hot now. Thank you." This applies to books too, most people aren't going to be able to read Anna Karenina in one sitting, it takes small gulps over a period of time to achieve.

Start small and work your way up: buy a piggy bank, shoot a Facebook message to some old friends, volunteer at the Norwood Food Pantry, go on an adventure. Think of how you will thank yourself in a year. Just remember in February when the New Year's shininess wears off and the resolutions go stale that you don't have to wait for the brimming of 2016 to change your life.