New year’s resolutions

We can, at any moment, start fresh and do, or be, something new. Feel unhealthy? Eat better at your next meal, or get up, right now, and go do some exercise. Feel disorganized? Go sort through your inbox and put all your messages in folders, or browse through your closet and toss out all the old stuff you no longer wear. Feel selfish? Call up a volunteer organization, or visit a website where you can send in a monetary donation in just a couple minutes. Whatever you don’t like, you can begin to fix it within a matter of seconds–simply making the decision to change starts you along that path, no matter what month or day or hour it is.

And yet, there’s something so satisfying about beginning anew at certain times or on certain days. It somehow seems more logical to start that new diet first thing tomorrow rather than in the middle of today. Or perhaps you’ll initiate your new workout schedule at the beginning of the next month, and just enjoy the last few days of this month as a couch potato. It feels right that major life changes should correspond to landmarks on your calendar; the overlap seems to emphasize the importance of your personal goals. The problem, of course, is that it isn’t easy to change, and if you hesitate even just a minute or two, you may find your willpower diminishing, along with the sense of urgency that caused you to make these new plans to begin with.

The dawning of a new year is a particularly alluring time to plan big changes, not just because it’s a significant temporal milestone recognized by a huge portion of the global population, but also because it’s traditionally a time when lots of other people are also plotting to improve themselves, their lives, and the world around them. We are all motivated by both the calendar and each other, and the feeling that this is the time that we can right whatever wrongs are bothering us.

New years are like sunrises--they offer the promise of untold possibilities.
New years are like sunrises–they offer the promise of untold possibilities.

The truth, of course, is that we were just of capable of doing this yesterday as we are today or tomorrow. All the same, it’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon and make a few resolutions–even if they are kept private. For most people, I think the appeal of the ritual is probably proportional to the amount of change that you’re hoping to impose; the more work you need to do, the more help you need generating and keeping the motivation to do it. New Year’s Day has a special allure as the day when you can take the first step down the path leading to the New You.

I have to admit that 2014 was not the greatest year I ever experienced, and I am not at all sad to see the back of it. I am well aware that the hanging of a new calendar doesn’t miraculously cure me of all the ills imposed by the previous year, but it sure does feel good to see twelve clean sheets that can be filled with…whatever I want. I have no idea what the future will bring, and I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment. It’s not that I’m pessimistic so much as pragmatic–I’ve always felt more comfortable setting a series of smaller, more achievable goals, rather than dreaming too big and risking biting off more than I can chew. I suppose that’s my Teutonic ancestry shining through.

I’ve been thinking about all of this quite a bit over the last few weeks in the run up to the beginning of 2015. I always make a few resolutions–one year I made the exciting pledge to start flossing every day–but this year they seem a bit more important somehow. The recent death of my grandmother, whom everyone always describes as having gotten the most out of life, makes me more keenly aware of my own mortality, and more determined to live my own life to the fullest. I’m also eager to avoid a repeat of 2014, during which I did not manage a very comfortable work-life balance.

The shore at Looe Bar
The beautiful Cornish shoreline, which I have not visited nearly enough this year, or any other year since I moved to the UK.


Balance, in fact, is the very thing I am after, in all facets of life. I want to get better at playing as well as working. I want to be creative with yarn and food and music, and not just with words and photos. I want to set aside time for mental wellbeing as well as physical wellbeing. Those are pretty broad goals, and broad goals are hard to achieve, so I’ve worked up a list of simpler, more accessible goals–things I can put on my to-do list and keep track of in my calendar, thus improving my chances of succeeding. To further motivate me, I’m sharing them here for all the world to see:

1. Complete two crochet projects by the end of 2015. I have collected so much yarn, and so many patterns, and I need to put them to use.

2. Update my science blog at least once a week. I haven’t done much with Anthrophysis since I finished my postdoc, and I want to change that.

3. Practice the tin whistle at least twice a week (and learn some new songs!). I practiced enough to stop being crummy, but not yet enough to be accurately described as “good”. I wouldn’t mind being good. Maybe if I practice enough, I might even be great–though maybe that’s a goal for 2016.

4. Continue making one-second-a-day videos to document my life. Now that I’ve finally gotten used to making this a part of my daily routine, it would feel weird to abandon this practice–and it does make an excellent record of the year.

5. Take a selfie every day (as done by Justin Peters–for philosophical reasons and not because I’m excessively vain!)

Mug cozies–one of the projects I’d like to complete, even though these really have no practical purpose. Image, and crochet instructions, courtesy of Sewing Barefoot.

6. Add variety to my workout schedule by doing more Pilates and tai chi. I would really like to regain some flexibility–not necessarily as much as I had back when I was a hurdler, but more than I have now.

7. Write e-mails to my family more often. I am particularly bad about keeping in touch with my grandparents and in-laws, and they deserve better.

8. Go birding more often. Except during annual trips to the Scillies, I haven’t really gone birding since moving to the UK; I’m ashamed of how few British birds I know. I’ve just joined the BTO and RSPB, and I have purchased CDs of British bird songs so I can memorize vocalizations. By this time next year, I want to at least be able to identify all the species I regularly see and hear around town–including the migrants.

9. Try a new baked goods recipe at least once a month, and take the fruits of my labor (assuming they are edible!) to work to share with my colleagues. When I started working full-time, I started limiting my kitchen endeavors to the bare minimum of what was needed to subsist. Big, intricate dinners became a rarity, and baking practically vanished. Time to whip out the apron and put some of my new cookbooks to use.

10. Read at least 30 books–a goal prompted by author Joe Hill‘s annual book-reading resolution. Given that I usually read at least one book per week, I’m thinking this should be a fairly accessible goal. I’ve already got about a dozen candidates ready and waiting on my Kindle.

English muffins–one of the things I want to bake this year. Image courtesy of Budget Bytes, where you can also find an English muffin recipe.

If I sat around thinking long enough, I could probably come up with dozens more goals, but then I’d likely feel so overwhelmed that I wouldn’t end up achieving any of them. Ten seems like a nice do-able number, and those particular ten are important because they target issues that have been bothering me not just during the past year, but for the past several years–in some cases, since I moved to Falmouth.

I’ve realized that the process of relocating to a new country and bouncing from one strenuous job to another threw me off more than I anticipated, and, in some ways, caused me to stop being…me. You might also say that, having wrapped up my final degree and left school for the first time ever (as a student, anyway), I finally had to grow up and become an adult. That may be true, but I don’t think that maturation necessarily requires you to sacrifice all the characteristics and pastimes of your youth. Instead, I think you often just need to reprioritize and do things at different times, or maybe for less time. It’s all about moderation–or, as I said before, balance.

So here’s to a happy and well-balanced 2015–not just for me, but for everyone.