As a writer, one of the most daunting sights I ever look at is a blank document staring back at me from my computer screen. Every time I begin to write an article or a column, the pure white of emptiness shines out at me, reminding me that the direction the piece will take depends wholly on the words that I choose to assemble. At the end of the day, I can look back and realize that I truly enjoy the creative freedom that that blankness represents, but before the words begin to flow, that white page is a symbol of responsibility that's always just a little bit overwhelming to me.
I'm thinking about that intimidating sight now, as 2010 dissolves into 2011, because I have realized that the New Year is a lot like that blank Microsoft Word document. For many of us, December 31 has become an annual day of thought and reflection, a time to look back on what we did well throughout the past year but mostly to think about the things we know we can do better the next. And now, as we tear off the last page of our 2010 calendars, we turn the page of a crisp new calendar filled with nothing but the empty whiteness of fresh beginnings.
The pure restoration that rebirth represents is inspiring indeed, but to me, just like that blank computer screen, it's a bit daunting, as well. There are so many changes that I could make in the transformation to a better me, and the New Year seems the ideal time for all of them. Get in shape, stop procrastinating, give more to charity, eat healthier…I think that all of us have similarly inexhaustible lists. And, while those flaws seem to stay confined quietly in the closet of our minds all year round, they inevitably come to the forefront as the midnight strike of the clock turns the pages of yet another new year.
Perhaps that is why so many of us have developed the habit of making New Year's resolutions year in and year out. According to one source, we have been making those inner covenants for more than 2,000 years, in a New Year's tradition started by the early Romans. Today, we stick staunchly to the mostly fruitless custom, perhaps hoping that a promise of improvement will ease the nagging need for true resolve in our lives.
The 2010 list of the top ten New Year's resolutions looks much like the collections of years past. Not surprisingly, losing weight tops the list, followed by sticking to a budget, getting out of debt, and spending more time with family and friends. Undoubtedly, all of these ambitious resolutions were cast with the truest of intentions, and there's no question that virtually all of us could improve ourselves by following through with at least a few of them. But there is where the infamous New Year's resolution glitch comes into play. Recent research shows that just a mere 12 percent of us carry out those vows that we so sincerely make before the cork is popped on that New Year's Eve champagne.
I'm not too prideful to admit that I have never been among that disciplined 12 percent of dedicated resolution-keepers. That's why this year, I have given up on the resolution tradition. It's a bit sad to see it go, I guess, but after nearly 20 years of failed vows and empty promises, I've realized that New Year's resolutions are too often nothing more than uttered words.
But, that doesn't mean I've given up on New Year's. I will still feel a refreshing bliss as that famous ball drops to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, and I still feel the yearning to start anew with the beginning of 2011. It's just that this year, instead of taking my New Year's cue from the ancient Romans, I am going to take it from a modern entity called Starbucks.
I am not a Starbucks consumer, but I have an ad from the café on my office wall with a slogan that reminds me to “Do something good everyday.” I don't remember when that ad was put there, and I haven't given much thought to it since, but today, with a fresh new year in front of me, I have decided to take that slogan on as my own, not as a resolution, but as a new attitude for the future. We've all experienced the difficulty of keeping the resolutions that relate to our lifetime habits, but I know that we each have it within us to spend a little time every day doing something good. And while those frustrating resolutions could have changed us individually, this new tradition of habitual goodness has the power to change the entire world.
Whatever promises we are making this January, I hope we will remember that the New Year's holiday is exciting, but there is nothing magical about that last strike of the 2010 clock that will make the changes that we want to make in our life occur. It's up to us to fill those days that lie before us with the goodness that will make this world a better place. And, as I look at an empty calendar filled only with the days to “do something good,” I see one blank canvas that is not daunting at all.
CharLy Markwart is a reporter and columnist for the Princeton Times.