The year end signifies an ending of a chapter and a new beginning. Anything is possible. We feel like Cinderella, but in a good way: when the clock strikes twelve, all will be different. We become determined to make big changes in our lives. We vow to lose fifty pounds, quit smoking, quit drinking, get a new job, limit our time on the internet, shut the phone off during dinner… goals so lofty, we call them “Resolutions.”
But by the end of this month, over half of us will lose the resolve. The gym membership still will get paid, but the gym bag will never leave the closet again; the Nicorette patches will accumulate dust in the back of the cabinet; every day we find an excuse to have our phone in our hand while eating. And so we succumb to disappointment, and by the middle of February we’ve completely given up and figure we’ll try again next year.
Perhaps we don’t succeed because we’ve been looking at it the wrong way. We need to see our resolutions for what they really are: not a determination to give up something, but a commitment to gain something. All of those tasks we write down in the contract we’ve written in stone and signed in blood at the stroke of midnight aren’t a test of willpower to cease an old habit. It’s an invitation to start a new habit—a simple one that comes naturally.
Every resolution, no matter what the task is, is simply this: To Be Kind.
When we eat healthy, we are being kind to our body. When we stop igniting and inhaling gaseous toxins, we’re being kind to ourselves and all those around us. When we set the phone down at dinner, we can truly listen to our child tell a story about her day—and that’s kindness to both of us.
When we think of our resolutions as a test of willpower, we believe if we stick with it long enough, we can reward ourselves by breaking the commitment. “I’ve lost ten pounds! I deserve a donut today.”
But if we think of our resolutions as the intent to be kind, the idea of a reward for a job well done sounds ridiculous: “I have been nice to everyone for a whole day. I should reward myself by yelling at that cashier for no reason!”
When a resolution is doing rather than stopping, the reward is in the doing of itself. When we focus on the intent and not the mechanics, options abound, and we can do a variety of things while staying true to the resolution. Be kind to yourself: do yoga, go for a run with your dog, eat a healthy breakfast, go to bed early, or get a massage. Be kind to others: when you go through the grocery line, don’t just thank the person who bagged your groceries—look them in the eye and smile. Acknowledge the homeless person asking for change, even if you don’t have any to give. Be kind to your pets: don’t rush your dog on his walk; recognize that his daily walk is his morning paper, his social hour, and his recess all in one, and allow him to savor every moment.
That’s every New Year’s Resolution.
So when you’re trying to drag yourself out of bed before dawn to have a twenty minute workout, don’t muster up the determination to do it; just think how it would be unkind to not give your body that boost for the day. When you struggle to tear your eyes away from your phone at dinner, look up for a moment, and truly see your family across the table; you’ll find you will actually listen. And when your dog wants to spend five minutes sniffing one leaf on one bush, instead of dragging him away in hurried frustration, just think how you’d feel if you were reading a book and someone snatched it out of your hand and threw it across the road. Take a moment to be kind, and let him finish reading that sentence.
And consider this: if you’ve already broken your resolutions this year, you don’t need to wait until next year to try again. Our lives are not a Choose Your Own Adventure Book. We needn’t wait till the end of a chapter to choose a new path. All the pages ahead are blank; we are writing the lines as we live and the plot can go anywhere. Our character develops, learns, makes mistakes, and at any point can change who he or she is. It can happen at the beginning of a new page, the end of a paragraph, and even in mid-sentence.
The top of the hour at the beginning of a year is a helpful bookmark to notate time, but we don’t need the clock to strike midnight to change our perspective and start on a new path. We can change it right here, right now. Every second of every day is a chance to be kinder—to yourself, to others, and to the planet.
Happy New Year from all of us at Bark Avenue Foundation. No matter what tasks you choose to take up this year or what new habits you strive to create, remember it all comes down to one simple pledge:
Resolve To Be Kind.
Stephanie Wescott is a freelance writer whose mission is to save animals’ lives through story. Although she hails from New England and resides in Southern California, you’ll mostly likely find her somewhere in between on the open road with her canine companion Tucker, searching for trails to hike and stories to tell. You can follow their tracks and read their tales at www.alltuckeredout.org.