For most of us, New Year resolutions used to be passing fancies. But after a pandemic-charged year, we are now seeking changes to give our lives more purpose and meaning
By Lekha Menon
Published: Fri 31 Dec 2021, 11:14 PM
Looking for a sure-shot formula to have second thoughts about your purpose in life? Be on social media! This well-established fact was reiterated the other day when, during an Instagram scrolling session, I came across an acquaintance’s post detailing her milestones of the past year — new projects, running a marathon, success in business… all rounded off with the mandatory gratitude to the universe.
Another friend “thanked 2021” for giving her the gift of marriage while yet another made smug posts flaunting her past and present glories, with a subtle boast on what lies in store for her in 2022.
The end of a year and the beginning of a new one is a peculiar period. It inspires many of us to look back, take stock and plan ahead while it serves as a reminder for the rest of us about how much catching up we have to do. Perhaps that’s the whole point of new year resolutions — a time-tested ritual dating back to the Romans who began a new year making promises to god Janus after whom the month of January is named. Personally, I feel resolutions are your traditional manifesto that provides a blueprint for your achievements in the upcoming months… and whether you follow them or not is up to you!
Unfortunately, unlike my above-mentioned peers, I had nothing remarkable to parade for 2021 — except a sigh of relief that I came out of a dull, uninspiring year with health and sanity relatively intact.
I have no clue of what the new year holds for me. What goals should I set? How should I turn my career and relationships around? Should I dust up the plan conceived when I turned 40 a few years ago (none of which came through) or just forget the past and go with the flow?
The answers still elude me.
However, at a time when the Covid threat still looms large and the uncertainty around life, work and health refuses to go, resolutions, plans and life goals seem rather hollow to me. Perhaps just the act of arriving into 2022 with hope left, should be considered a badge of honour. And that precisely seems to be the overriding pandemic-induced sentiment among a lot of people I spoke to.
When it comes to resolutions, there are exactly two kinds of people: non-believers who treat it like an amusing new year fad, and believers who use it as a roadmap for reorganising their lives. Aisha Linda Xavier belongs to the latter category. She shows me her ‘resolution diary’ which seems to be an apt reflection of changed priorities and perceptions that most of us identify with.
For Dubai-based Aisha, the early part of 2020 was spent in fear with her daughter and husband stuck in Malaysia and Iran respectively while she was left alone with her son. Despite missing her family, Aisha decided to make the most of the isolation and enjoy living in the present which meant getting enough sleep, reading, reaching Level 3 in Candy Crush and learning to make delicious dumplings, prawn cakes and Laksa.
“I actually made my goals in May 2020 as I woke up to the reality of the pandemic. I decided to improve myself religiously by reading the Holy Quran, throwing away my ‘fun credit card’ kept for brunches, getting beauty treatments etc and making a genuine attempt to help people who had lost jobs or had to go on unpaid leave because of Covid. I was busier than ever before.”
Aisha’s 2020 resolutions carried through in 2021 too, while on the personal front, she decided to redefine her idea of health. “I have an exercise bike in office but I wasn’t inclined to get on it. I have learnt to cook, so those kilos are not going to shed off so easily! Instead, I focused on living a healthier life than before.”
With the gradual acceptance that the pandemic was here to stay, Aisha diligently worked towards getting her family back together — a dream that finally came true early in December.
After a roller-coaster physical, emotional and spiritual 24 months of “surviving the pandemic”, Aisha is looking forward to 2022. She has not made huge resolutions, she says, only quarterly plans. The first quarter is to stick to the budget plan of 2021 and complete Expo 2020 Dubai, the second quarter of Ramadan would be devoted to spirituality and community while the third would be for family and friends. The fourth quarter would be action-filled: “Qatar World Cup experience and prepare for my rebirth in 2023,” she laughs.
Aisha’s template is something that a lot of people around the world seem to be consciously or unconsciously following. The unprecedented and uncontrollable disturbances of the past two years have resulted in a tectonic internal shift where a meaningful life and career is being given more importance than, say, a regular ‘10 things I must achieve in the new year’ list.
From apparently simplistic wishes like losing weight or getting a new job or increasing one’s bank balance, to introspecting on larger goals of life, there is a deeper thought behind making a resolution now. As Tania Kawood, Dubai-based healer and founder of TK Holistic Healing observes, the huge shift across age-groups and cultures towards a “return to the real self” is reflected in all aspects (manifestations, as she calls it in spiritual terms). “Your needs for the new year may not be all that different from what you desired in the past but now people are asking deeper questions around that desire. Depending on the context in life, people are choosing quality over quantity. It’s less about how many friends you have but more about the quality of friends, less about watching calories but more about being healthy. They are ready to rearrange their lives to bring a lifestyle change,” says Tania.
Seeking Meaning in Life
For several others, the tumultuous two years have brought some key realisations which are helping them identify their larger purpose in the new year. Ranjan Singh, Mumbai-based CEO of a film production company, had his moment of epiphany during the innumerable Zoom calls with friends last year. “The first couple of months of the pandemic were not really as dreadful, as one didn’t know how long it would continue. But later, sitting at home, and mostly on group calls with friends, I realised how much good times spent together mean. Most of us would only discuss good memories and make promises to catch up as soon as things got better.”
This led him to do something interesting: sort all his pictures of almost 15 years since the digital camera became popular, and share them with old friends, family and colleagues. Their happy responses and his own realisation about placing relationships and happiness above work have led him to draw up a proper resolution list for 2022: slow down, strengthen human ties, create memories that last, read more books, learn to dance, resuscitate his hobby of making lamps, do acts of kindness, and the big one — adopt a child. It’s a long list but Ranjan is determined to make it work. “These things make life more fulfilling, and one needs to find time to do them,” he says.
Interestingly, making resolutions, as most people would agree, is far easier than fulfilling them. A 2007 study by University of Bristol showed that 88 per cent of those who set new year resolutions fail despite over half of them being confident of sticking through them. Then, there is that age-old argument: why would you need a day or date to decide what you want to do?
But more than the date, the key to successful fulfilment of resolutions lies in proper self-reflection and making a decision to act on them.
HuiLin Chin, a former VC operator and, presently, a psychologist-in-training did exactly that. “I see the pre-new year period as a time to reflect and plan for a fresh start. It doesn’t necessarily result in resolutions, but it’s definitely good to take stock and think about what would make life better for ourselves or for the world in general,” says HuiLin.
The impact of the pandemic on her career, the increased inequalities and rising focus on mental health made HuiLin rethink her priorities. She took time to do little experiments, from volunteering at an early stage startup to working at a private clinic, all of which led to an interest in her own physical and mental wellbeing.
Soon HuiLin decided to make the big shift: head back to university to train as a psychologist. “I have always been fascinated by psychology and understanding the inner workings of the mind. It will be a really helpful skill to be able to apply this to people in different settings. I won’t know until I actually try if it’s something I am good at or enjoy but without trying I will always wonder!” she says.
HuiLin, quite like Ranjan, also has her goals for 2022 ready, topmost amongst which is to spend time and energy in a meaningful manner. The items on her wishlist: cover 1,000 kms in 2022, clock in 5.30 minutes per km on a 6-8 km run, learn to live under $5 a day, have a real conversation with parents and family more often, be precise about investments, start a side business, read books instead of apps and learning Korean among others! “In a lot of ways I would like to rediscover how to live as I did 15-20 years ago,” says HuiLin.
The ‘self love’ ‘self care’, ‘living with balance’ and other lofty ideals that were the zeitgeist for the past two years have got a fillip in the new year. Natasha D’souza, a PR executive who made a huge change in her career in 2021, says, “The pressures of the last two years made me realise that you can’t control everything in life and often going with the flow is the best practice. I’m learning to keep myself ahead of everything and everyone else and not feel guilty about it.”
Living in the Present
The second big awakening seems to be about the power of “Now”. Sangeeta Aravind, the director of talent acquisition for a VC based in Singapore, describes herself as a ‘go with the flow person’, not prone to making or sticking to resolutions. However, the pandemic has made her give up her long-term or short-term plans or milestones. “I am now working on a rolling plan that I intend to figure out along the way. It may or may not work. But I see that there is no point in gambling with time anymore. So, there is no postponing the trip back home or the side project I had been wanting to take up or the hike I promised a friend. That’s the plan I want to roll with.” Like many others, Sangeeta emphasises on identifying and focusing on core needs. “Earlier, mine and my family’s thoughts revolved around the future, investments and all; now it’s centred on health and overall wellbeing,” she adds.
The only firm quantifiable resolution she has made for 2022 is to nurture her love for reading. “The lockdowns reignited my reading habit and I ended up reading at least 50-60 books last year, I want to double that this year,” she says.
A Universal Shift
Long-term specific plans have given way to short-term objectives mostly relating to personal happiness — those seem to be the coolest resolutions to make in 2022. Tania says, “What I have noticed among my clients and others is that if people get an ‘aha’ moment, they are not waiting for the first of January to make that shift, they are willing to take action now. There is also a greater shift towards journalling and working towards improving oneself.”
And in the process of improving oneself, a key realisation is also to not be pressurised to meet resolutions. Natasha says, “I have made quite a few resolutions in the past and have failed miserably. However, I do believe that there’s nothing bad at failing, rather I have always tried to re-look and tweak my resolutions as per the changing situation around me.” Ranjan, despite his ambitious dreams for the new year, agrees. “Even if some of my so-called goals are not achieved, it’s fine. They might be good milestones, but my life can’t be only about them. I learnt to find happiness in the process itself,” he says.
Whatever be your attitude towards it, resolutions and the first week of the new year is a good way to make the change you have always wanted to. Tania gives a few simple tips to actually make them work: Live in the now rather than be stuck in the trauma of the past or fear of future. Get to know yourself and what you want exactly than what society wants from you. “Finally, do directed manifestations. Journal your thoughts and take baby steps towards your larger goals,” she advises.
Perhaps I now have the answer to my afore-mentioned FOMO in the face of Instagram declared ‘Thank you 2021’ posts. 2022 would be a good beginning to make that ‘simple living, high thinking’ change I have wanted to. Hopefully, by the end of December 2022, I can finally find a post of my own to flaunt and be proud of!
Lekha Menon is a journalist and editor based in India