More To That

An illustrated, long-form blog that delves deeper into the things that make us who we are.

A Timeless New Year

A new year signifies all sorts of things.  A fresh start, a reset, an opportunity to wipe the slate clean.  This is what we look forward to as the second hand strikes the northern-most point of the clock, and we celebrate this occasion at scale.

There are some people, however, that don’t pay much attention to the arrival of the new year.  They’ll point to the arbitrariness of a year going from one number to the next, or the absurdity of celebrating one evening’s midnight stroke as opposed to another.  In the same way that “age is just a number,” perhaps they’ll say that a year is just another series of digits, incremented by one.

Personally, I sit in the middle of these two viewpoints.  I still (try to) stay up until midnight to do the countdown, although I no longer desire alcohol and partying to accompany this occasion.  Simply watching a number edge closer to zero with my wife’s hand in my own is enough to signify this fresh start.  And once the timer hits zero, we take a moment to pray and reflect on the direction that we’d like this year to take.

This is special, but at the same time, I also understand that there is an arbitrariness to the whole endeavor.  What I hoped for on December 28th won’t be all that different on January 1st, and it certainly wouldn’t change much from 11:58 PM to 12:01 AM.  These dates and times are mere symbols, even if they do represent the physical reality of the Earth making one full orbit around the Sun.

But I still find these symbols useful because they’re exercises in reframing, and it’s rare that this type of reframing is done at scale, all at once.  The new year is important because of its ability to shift our collective outlook a few notches closer to hope.  While one’s present circumstance may have no material change from one minute to another, one’s ability to reinterpret that circumstance can happen at a moment’s notice.  By seeing the future as something that could alleviate the present, one finds meaning in the ordeal and the weight of their struggles, allowing them to carry these burdens with hope.

The new year represents one’s commitment to reframing their lives, but the problem is that this commitment tends to be fleeting.  It’s no surprise that gyms are full in early January, but empty out by late February.  Or that a refrigerator is stock full of vegetables at first, but then shows signs of reverting back to the same old junk food that populated this same fridge last December.

Here’s the thing: When reframing is done as a function of time, then time will also be the variable that reverts it back to its original form.  If you stopped smoking simply because the calendar now reads January 1st, then the only thing that will keep you from smoking again is the daily streak in which you’ve kept this commitment up.  The problem with tying your habits to time is that your commitment is fragile – an unexpected event full of stress or grief will be enough to make you reach for an unopened pack.  That’s because deep inside, you still consider yourself to be a smoker, but are repressing it to adhere to an arbitrary streak you’ve set for yourself.

This is the issue with hope, and more specifically, with hoping that you’ll be a better version of yourself at the start of a new year.  Hope isn’t enough to create lasting change, especially if it’s contingent upon a social construct like celebrating the turning of a clock’s hands.  What’s more important is that you’ve reframed your identity as a whole, and that you truly believe in this fresh approach to viewing yourself.  Ideally you do this irrespective of what date is on the calendar, and instead focus on the story you want to tell about your own life.

For example, I used to smoke cigarettes on a daily basis.  I’d do it after creating music, after meals, and even after working out.  It was a regular part of my routine, and something that I looked forward to on a consistent basis.

Until one day, that stopped being the case.

At a certain point, the smell started to disgust me.  I didn’t like how I came back into my home smelling like an ash tray in some shitty dive bar.  And then I wondered why I was willingly doing this to myself, given that no one was forcing me to act as a walking chimney for whatever tobacco brand I happened upon that week.

Once this realization hit me, I simply stopped smoking.  That’s it.  There was no grand announcement to myself that the cigarette I had in my hand would be my last one.  There was no daily streak I kept track of to remind myself of my commitment.  I just stopped smoking because I was personally disgusted of it.  I no longer identified with it, and that reframe happened without much conscious effort of my own.

I find that the best changes in life happen this way.  They don’t start because you make a fervent commitment to something, and direct every ounce of your will to actualize that shift.  Nor do they start on some announced date.  Rather, these changes start subtly, often without your conscious awareness.  Oftentimes, they come downstream from your environment (your friends, colleagues, etc.) and your intuition (your values, standards, etc.), so if these things shift, so will the habits you identify with.

This is why I don’t set many goals at the start of the year.  Because by doing so, I’m assuming that the person I am at the start of the year is who I’m comparing myself to by the end of the year.  This is quite absurd if you think about it, given that each day is an opportunity to reframe and recontextualize your life in a substantive way.  What you once thought was desirable can become repulsive, and the inverse can also be true.  There are no absolutes to the things you think you want, and anchoring your desires in the form of goals forces you to adhere to that rigid identity.

Perhaps the most mindful way to view the new year is not to hope for a better future, or to take inventory of the goals you want to hit.  Rather, it may be better spent reflecting on why you hope for the things you hope for, or why you want to actualize those goals you desperately desire.  Because then you’ll have a better understanding of the identity you currently embody, and will realize which parts are worth embracing, and which parts are worth leaving by the wayside.

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