The last day of the old year cosying up to the first day of the new year offers such potential, for both reflection and anticipation.
We attach significance to various dates in our lives — our birthday; our wedding day, if we have one; the birthdays of our children, if we have them; the first day of school; our last day of school; the first day of our new job (or the last day of our old one); and so on.
Whatever the reason, we celebrate anniversaries, we remember those we have lost and we recognize the changes that simply living life brings. These are touchstones to memories we have created and the people with whom they have been shared. We also attach meaning and value to them because they are visible signs of our own growth and development.
Yet, over the next month, we will be inundated with articles, features, magazine covers and videos on how to change, improve, jumpstart, transform, revolutionize, modify everything that bothers us about ourselves and our lives.
There’s nothing wrong in making goals, or even in deciding to introduce healthier habits. However, in the last few years, I have been bothered by the relentless and seemingly unstoppable onslaught of exhortations to lose weight, to adopt minimalist living, to reduce consumption, to shed toxic relationships, and on and on it goes.
There’s a certain irony in that. We start in September and October with regular reminders of Christmas shopping lists, meal planning for big celebrations, and renovating for the fresh holiday look, all of which is founded on a principle that the holidays are about excess and consumption. Come January, we switch to austerity mode, where seemingly everything needs to be reduced, renewed and remade, including people.
Rather than celebrate what we can do right, the focus is always on what we are doing wrong.
I have written in the past about the need to see potential rather than correction in life.
There’s also nothing wrong with setting goals and evaluating them; like a ship’s captain, deciding to modify your direction with adjustments to avoid danger or poor conditions that will interfere with you reaching your destination is always a wise consideration.
I think we need to change our perspective and stop seeing people as objects to be fixed or to be made over into some ideal that is not about who we are or what reflects our own values and beliefs.
If we began with the assumption that people are inherently good, rather than inherently flawed, how does our approach change? Using a solution-focused approach — what needs to change to make things better — rather than focusing constantly on the things that are considered wrong or poorly chosen allows people to move beyond the symptom and focus on where change can really make a difference.
For example, look at Meatless Mondays, a campaign developed by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2003 to support improved health through the reduced consumption of meat. The campaign doesn’t say meat is bad; it doesn’t say eat more vegetables and it doesn’t focus on weight or cholesterol or blood pressure.
Instead it focuses on making small changes (one meal or three meals one day a week) to make a difference in the long term rather than promoting a quick fix, radical approach that assumes something is wrong with the person to start with.
Another key difference is that the campaign designers also offered up multiple ways of achieving this goal, ways which have since been applied to other health behaviours, such as smoking, physical activity and other aspects of nutrition.
Using fear, self-doubt, and even smug satisfaction to promote change is not the way to go. I think John Bingham said it best when he commented on finishing a marathon after years of living a sedentary lifestyle: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
This year, make a promise to yourself to celebrate the good things in you and your life, and if you need to make changes, find the courage within you to do the small things that will make a positive difference for you.
Martha Muzychka is a writer and
consultant. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.