This is the time of year for the diet, fitness, and financial industries to advertise for a new crop of customers. Most will use the “superstition” of New Year’s resolutions as a draw. But some will have too much integrity, and, while they will offer their services for 2020, they will make a point of conceding there is nothing magical about a New Year resolution.
What we are talking about is people endeavoring to change who they are. A couch potato wants to become a marathon runner. A morbidly obese women wants the social and health advantages of being slim. A man who has decayed at a desk for years wants to stand up with a barbell loaded with twice his body weight in his hands. A woman who has used credit cards and leased a car wants to have a positive new worth.
This is almost “frog to prince” territory. Of course, you will need all the magic you can get to accomplish this kind of thing.
The thing about time is that it can pass imperceptibly—for a while. The Bible warns about this, because the time we are allowed to correct our course often instead becomes a period of decay that reinforces bad habits and causes the damage they do to accumulate. “A slack hand causes poverty,” says Solomon, “But the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4 ESV). But none of that happens right away, which is why people find it more enjoyable to be slack than diligent. Riches are too far off to seem worth the diligence and poverty is too far off to fear.
Until it’s not. And then it’s often too late.
And one of the major traditions that helps us change our behavior, and thus change ourselves, is the calendar. We set aside days to remind ourselves that the years are passing us by. New Year’s Day isn’t the only such marker, but it is a major one. It is a public ritual by which we acknowledge that time is passing.
This is a good news/bad news situation. The fact that time is passing means lost opportunities, misspent youth, and closer death. But it also means you are in a new time period with new possibilities. While you may be running out of time, you don’t have to continue in the ways of last year or last decade.
Of course, that is also true, in theory, every second of every day. You can change any time. But habits don’t change instantaneously, or they wouldn’t be habits. It takes forethought and strategic planning to end old habits and to adopt new ones. Alterations in diet, exercise, or spending and saving cannot be made spontaneously.
So, it helps to have society working with you, so to speak, to get you thinking and plotting to change the inertia of your life. That’s the magic.
But, unhappily, the magic can also work in reverse. To go past the New Year and not to pursue needed change means you're accepting your status quo. You’re allowing the habits that you don’t like to fester and grow, “perfected” by another year of practice.
Don’t let anyone tell you that New Year’s resolutions aren’t magic! But the enchantment will be more powerful if you come up with a plan. No new skill is learned automatically. It takes practice and diligence to keep you going despite failure.