New Year, New You?
Have you ever been to the gym on January 1? For years I hadn’t. I wasn’t actively avoiding it; it just never (ahem) worked out. But then, a couple years back, our family decided to head to the YMCA on New Year’s Day. Want to guess who I saw there?
It was like a block party in there. Every machine was occupied. The music was blasting. Strangers high-fived each other as they walked to the water fountains. Somewhere in the distance, I could have sworn I saw a disco ball appear. The air was thick with optimism and sweat.
None of this should have surprised me. But it did. I had assumed that the New Year’s resolution was on its way out. Not dead, exactly, but at least on life-support. And yet, the YMCA reminded me that the New Year’s resolution is still going strong.
Going strong … until it trips and falls. Because whether you love New Year’s resolutions or not, you probably know how most of them end. With a resonant thud. Visit your local gym, say, on February 22 and take note: The wonder has left the building.
So this New Year’s, should we all resolve to ditch resolutions altogether?
Not so fast.
New Year, New You New Start
Confession: I’ve always liked the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Turning the calendar feels like a natural moment of possibility. The past 365 days may have been filled with mistakes, regrets, bad habits. But the 365 blank days staring back at me? They’re like a freshly fallen snow: None of them have been touched at all. Hope springs eternal.
Rationally, I know that I’m still carrying myself into the new year. I’ve lived enough years to know that change is hard-fought. I’ve seen enough Februaries to tell myself, “Don’t get too excited.” But all of this rationality can’t stop me: At a gut level, every January, something in me says, “This year can be different.”
It turns out I’m not alone.
Daniel Pink, in his book When, summarizes recent scientific research to show how most of us, intuitively, have a felt sense of optimism at key moments on the calendar. The most obvious one is the start of the year. But other “re-start” dates trigger the same kind of response. The first day of the month. The first day of the week. Even personal dates like your birthday or the start of a new job. When the calendar resets, people tend to think, “Maybe I can reset, too. Maybe I can start again.”
And here’s the thing: They can. When people attempt to begin new habits (or kill old ones) on “reset dates,” they are more likely to continue them later.
I know this has been true in my life. For instance, every November for the past decade, I’ve fallen off the pace in my running. (I could give you my excuses. That’s not the point.) But just as reliably, every January, I pick up my running shoes again. The reset date kickstarts the habit, which propels me to 10 months of consistent running. For me, that’s a win.
Or I think of my dad. He smoked cigarettes for years prior to my birth—and several years after. Of course, he knew they were bad for him. But breaking bad habits is hard. Then, one year, he made the resolve to quit. When did he do it? July 20, 1994, the day I turned 10. It still took a ton of work, but he did it. And the date he started mattered.
You can probably think of similar examples in your life, moments when you’ve started something—or re-starting something—at a key moment on the calendar. The timing may not have been intentional, but I can assure you: It mattered.
New Year, Old Me, Same Jesus
As we roll into 2023 (myself rolling a bit more than others due to Christmas sweets), it’s good to remind ourselves of two simple truths.
The first truth is the one I’ve already mentioned: Timing matters. So if you have an inkling of starting—or re-starting—a spiritual practice, you could do a lot worse than January 1. Pick up that devotional book. Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier to make time for prayer. Begin a Sabbath practice. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be life-changing.
(And enlist your friends to help you! After all, you’re much more likely to continue a new habit if you’re not flying solo. Community helps.)
The second truth, though, is the one that makes me even more hopeful. It’s this: Jesus already inhabits the 365 days of 2023. I may be bringing my same old self into this new year—the same old frustrations, same old anxieties, same old jealousies. But I am following a Savior who makes all things new. He meets my failed attempts with grace, encouraging me to start over. He doesn’t look at 2022 with a score card, as I’m tempted to do, evaluating my wins and losses. Over the year 2022, he has one phrase written for me: “You are a beloved child of God.” And over the year 2023, the banner is the same.
As you and I step into 2023, we do so under the banner of eternal, unconditional, death-defying love. With a Savior like this, we are freed up to try again, and again, and again—even if we keep on falling—because we fall into the arms of love.