Friday, December 31, 2010

 May your new year be meaningful!

New years are interesting things. They’re basically just the rather arbitrary start to another 365 days, but I do like the sense of hope that always seems to accompany them.
If nothing else, a new year is an invitation to reflect on the old one. Unless you’re one of those rare creatures living the dream, that usually leads to some deep thinking about what needs changing in your life and in your world.  I suspect that’s what gives the new year that air of hopefulness.
Fat people resolve to get thin. Harried parents resolve to spend more time with their neglected kids. Struggling businesses resolve to have the year that changes everything. The resolutions of a new year are whatever you want them to be, but they’re virtually always about doing better.
That’s not to say that our resolutions end up happening. We all know the high failure rates of new-year resolutions. But even just thinking about the things that need to change is better than not thinking at all, and for that we ought to be grateful.
I spent three years working with women in crisis at PEERS Victoria. In the early months, I was tripping all over myself trying to understand the kinds of things that were going on in their lives and how to help them.
Fortunately, a local psychologist suggested I do some reading around the stages of change. And it all fell into place.
In that instance, I used the stages model to help me understand why people continued to use drugs harmfully even when they were completely destroying their lives doing it. But I’ve used the stages of change to think about all kinds of puzzling behaviours since then, because it’s really clarifying.
In the language of that model, the new year is essentially the preparation stage - stage three in the five-stage process. It’s the stage where you’ve recognized your problem and that something has to change, and now you’re determined to act.
Not surprisingly, the preparation stage was a profoundly hopeful period in the lives of the street-entrenched sex workers who tended to come through the doors at PEERS in my time there.
They’d gone through much adversity getting to that point, and knew that much personal work still lay ahead if they were to succeed.  But at that very moment, there was nothing but hope.
The new year has that same feeling. For at least a few days once a year, we collectively focus on problems that we’ve been thinking about for a while, and what we’re prepared to do about them. We recognize our own role in making change happen.
I like to think that people in high places experience something similar at the start of a new year. Sure, they probably swear off bad carbs and vow to do more exercise just like the rest of us; Stephen Harper definitely trimmed down over the past year. But I hope they spare a thought or two for the bigger picture.
We need our politicians, policy-makers and business leaders making resolutions. We need health-system CEOs preparing for change. We need provincial leadership candidates who can articulate more meaningful transformation for B.C. than the trivial bits and pieces put forward so far.
And it’s not just up to them. Imagine if everybody made at least one resolution for the larger world this coming year, something that they then made happen.
World peace and an end to global hunger would be really nice in 2011, but a better world is actually built one small good deed at a time. What will yours be?
For those with more traditional resolutions around weight loss and fitness, I hope you find the discipline this year to make them happen.
It’s been 28 years now since I first made exercise a permanent feature of my daily life. I’m deeply grateful for the health, strength, agility and peace of mind it continues to bring me, and for the 25 pounds I managed to lose this past year by eating better (and less).
‘Tis the season of the poet at the Times Colonist. I recommend a piece that I virtually memorized during my time at  PEERS, “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters,  by the late American singer and songwriter Portia Nelson.
Some say the poem perfectly describes the five stages of change. A toast, then, to new beginnings.

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