So it’s nearly 2014. It’s odd that we look forward to the changing of the calendar year with a mixture of hope and expectation, almost as if it represents a new start for our lives. Of course the calendar I’m talking about is the Common Era one. There are other ‘new years’ around the world, with their own traditional celebrations.
The turn of the calendar year -the actual moment when 2013 becomes 2014 for example- has taken on worldwide significance in recent decades. Remember the famous Y2K bug, that was supposed to bring the world’s computers down when 1999 became 2000?. From a mythical problem to a real one, the turn of the year is the moment when the global mobile phone network tends to crash under the weight of billions of text messages saying ‘Happy New Year’. Often a picture of the sender is attached to the text, which adds mightily to the weight of data and makes the crash virtually certain. Of course the volume of texts peaks because of the parties, fireworks and occasionally riotous celebrations that go on around the world.
Galloping on, did you know that January 1st is also significant for horses? That’s because it’s the official birthday of every racehorse born in the northern hemisphere. (August 1st in the southern hemisphere). This means that the earlier in the year a foal is born, the bigger and stronger it will be in its first year of racing as a ‘two-year-old’. It’s no surprise, then, that lots of future racehorses are born in January and February, instead of their natural seasonal birthing time in the spring months of April and May.
One tradition at New Year that’s widespread around the world is the making of ‘resolutions’. Certainly it’s commonplace in English-speaking countries like the UK and USA. The idea is that you make decisions on New Year’s Eve to improve yourself or your life in some way in the year just beginning.
Research shows that for the past few years the most frequently made resolution by people in the US has been to lose weight. Unfortunately the rising obesity epidemic in the US shows that this is a resolution equally frequently broken. Likewise, the equally common resolutions to get fit, and to stop smoking are notoriously difficult to achieve.
But these are important matters. Obesity, tobacco and lack of exercise are known killers, so we all want to avoid them, don’t we? That makes it quite difficult to understand why we can’t achieve these resolutions.
Fortunately there’s plenty of experience in the business world that we can borrow and use in our private lives, including in that bit of our lives where we try to improve ourselves or our direct environments. One thing I’ve learned in business, for instance, is the importance of writing things down. A written ‘to do’ list can be a great morale booster as you cross tasks out in a brightly coloured ink!
Telling other people about your objectives can also be very useful. Sometimes they can help you directly. And the fact that you’ve told them, and don’t want to be seen to fail, can help keep you going.
For the kind of self improvement resolutions that we make at New Year, however, it seems to me that sustainability is the key. And by this I mean that the goals you set yourself should be relatively short term, reasonably achievable, and should not require an immediate complete change in lifestyle. Remember, you can always reset a goal when you’ve achieved it.
So, if losing weight is important to you, don’t set yourself a long term target in kilograms; your willpower probably won’t last long enough. Instead set yourself the target of cutting one particularly calorie-filled item out of your diet during January, plus maybe walking, or taking some other weight-burning exercise twice a week. When February comes around, and you’ve lost half a kilo and feel fitter, it will be no trouble at all to reset your resolution for another month.
Now suppose that you need to improve a critical business skill, say the ability to work at a senior level in English. What kind of resolution is most likely to lead to a positive result for you? It surely isn’t “This year I will raise the level of my English language skills from ‘beginner’ to ‘expert'”. That’s far too vague and much too long term. The day to day short term pressures of work and family will divert your attention, and your long term objective will get lost, even if you write it down and tell other people about it.
Choose a sustainable achievable resolution instead; for example “I will contact a good language school in the first week of January for an assessment to see what I need to do in improving my skills.” Then, if you live in Jakarta, write down the telephone number on the ‘Contact Us’ page of this website, tell your friends what you plan to do, and enjoy the New Year celebrations secure in the knowledge that you are going to achieve at least one of your resolutions.
Happy New Year!