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59. A New Year, A New You

This year Samoa lost a day as it moved from one time zone into another. When its inhabitants went to bed on 29th December they woke in the morning to 31st December - there was no 30th December. They were not happy. The 750 Samoans who had birthdays on that day were peeved, as were the business-owners who had to pay a full week's wages for only four day's work. The Seventh Day Adventists were particularly upset, apparently, as they felt that God would not appreciate one of his days being wiped out in such a cavalier fashion. Such is our attachment to our calendar, whether it be personal, practical, economical, or moral, and so it is with New Year's Eve. This week's tip looks at New Year and how we might use it to create a great 2012. An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.' Bill Vaughan, industrialist As a nation we appear to be divided into two groups, those who like New Year's Eve and those who don't. I've not done the research but anecdotally I find that the former group tend to view New Year's Eve as a new beginning, while the latter tend to view it as an ending, and therefore a loss. People are often polarised in this way - things are either good or bad, up or down, nice or nasty -and yet there is absolutely no reason why one can't see New Year as both and ending and a beginning. Endings are an opportunity to look back and reflect and learn; beginnings an opportunity to create, plan and look ahead. How was last year for you? Recalling our achievements is one of life's more enjoyable pursuits, yet we do it surprisingly rarely. How often do you sit down and tot up all your successes? How often do you run the associated pleasurable occasions through on your internal cinema screen? How often do you reward yourself for doing something well? If you don't do these things you are missing out on a source of pleasure that is so very easy to experience, and much safer than bungy-jumping, much cheaper than a holiday, and much better for you than alcohol or drugs. The end of a year is a great time to do this, to look back and ask the question, 'what went well?'. Every year brings its triumphs and also its tribulations. Some will have had a particularly bad year - difficult things happened, failure raised its head, there was loss, heartache, uncertainty. Hard to see the point of reliving it, one might think - it was bad enough the first time. I was once given a lesson in finding the positive in what seemed like an overwhelmingly negative situation. I was observing a course in facilitation, run by a friend of mine, and each of the participants took a turn in facilitating a discussion among their peers. It was the turn of Karim, a quiet, gentle man who rarely spoke. His group quickly realised that if there were any reins at all, they were extremely slack. They ran riot. They talked over each other, argued, laughed uproariously, and poor Karim looked completely bewildered. When time was called nothing tangible had been achieved. My friend had already demonstrated a remarkable ability to elicit positive feedback but surely even she would be floored by this? I was squirming in anxiety for Karim. Unnecessarily, it turned out. My friend asked the group what Karim had done well. Perhaps they paused for a moment, but then they said he had been kind, that he had listened to everybody's views, and that he had asked some pertinent questions. They also said that they'd really enjoyed the discussion. I relaxed, amazed. It made me realise two things - one that we have a tendency to focus on the negative, usually related to a narrow idea of how things should be, and two, that in fact there is nothing and nobody in which good cannot be found. Last year has been a difficult year for many - for Barack Obama, for David Cameron, for Angela Merkel, for many people in the middle east, for ordinary people in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland...... and for many others in their work and personal lives. But even for these there will have been successes and happy events and things to be grateful for, and there will have been much learning along the way. In the same way that a solution to one problem can produce unintended consequences and often another set of problems, apparently negative events and circumstances can often lead to unexpected bonuses. I never saw the morning 'til I stayed up all night I never saw the sunshine 'til you turned out the light I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long I never heard the melody, until I needed a song. from San Diego Serenade by Tom Waits One of those bonuses can be a new clarity about what is important to you. Unfortunately it can take a serious illness before you value your health, losing someone before you realise how important they are to you, being made redundant before you value your work. Another bonus is perspective. There is nothing like a serious life event to show you the triviality of most of the things you fret about. Another is the experience of human qualities and connection with others. As in the Blitz, adversity has a way of bringing out the best in people and the most unexpected people can turn out to be your guardian angels. A friend of mine has just been through eight months of chemotherapy. One of her friends, not even an especially close one, said 'Well you won't feel up to housework, I'll come and help you out.' For eight months this woman came once a week to clean the house and change the beds. On the other hand, some people you thought you could rely on mysteriously evaporate, or even betray you, the moment the proverbial hits the fan. It may be painful, but it's good to know who your friends are. It is from new realisations like these that your future evolves. From now on, you decide, you're going to spend more time with your family, you're going to put more effort into your work, you're going to take that holiday you've been promising yourself for ten years, start eating more healthily, take up the guitar, look up an old friend, seek out some support. Try this: Think about the different areas of your life, work, home, friendship, leisure. 1. What went well in 2011? What did you learn from those successes and positive experiences? 2. What were the difficulties and challenges of 2011? What did you learn from those challenges? 3. What was there to be grateful for in 2011? 4. As a result of what you learnt in 2011, what would you like to create, do and be in 2012? 'The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.' G K Chesterton Wishing you a creative, fulfilling and love-filled 2012.