Happy new everything!

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AT THIS time of the year more than any other, it is very tempting to make all kinds of crazy resolutions and commit to goals which, even with the greatest will in the world, might yet prove unattainable.

I once had a colleague who declared that he was going to have a “total life makeover”, adjusting various aspects of his life so that by the end of the year, he would be a “brand new person”.

Needless to say, he didn’t change very much at all, and when the year came to an end, the only difference I could see was that he seemed a little more of a disappointment to himself than he had been the previous year.

While our intentions may be good, the euphoria surrounding the real or imagined newness of a year can be very seductive. There is a school of thought which says that your willpower is a finite commodity, and that you can only employ so much of it at a time.

Other thinkers suggest that the best way to make willpower work better is to create an environment in which it can thrive.

So for instance, if a sister is planning to lose weight this year, she can increase her chances of success by changing her grocery shopping habits to eliminate those foods which she shouldn’t eat.

That way she doesn’t have to fight a monumental battle when she is already holding open the fridge door and is at her most vulnerable.

In other words, she sets her willpower up to succeed. Similarly if a brother decides that this year he would like to stop messing around, he can increase his chances of success by avoiding the places where he meets temptresses, rather than waiting until the temptation is standing in front of him in a red dress, calling his name, and so on and so on.

In reality there is very little about the newness of a year that makes it the right time to make changes.

For many of us it’s not that new at all — we have not moved houses, acquired new family members, changed occupation or emigrated to a more prosperous country.

The reality of our situation on December 31 2013 remains with us on January 5 2014 and the only thing we can conclusively change is ourselves and how we respond to the circumstances surrounding us.

Any change takes courage. It takes courage to admit that there is a part of your life that is not working the way you want it to.

But for us to succeed at employing our willpower and making lasting changes, we must believe in our ability to succeed. Author Susan Jeffers neatly sums up the challenge: “All you have to do to diminish your fear is to develop more trust in your ability to handle whatever comes your way.”

So have yourselves a happy 2014 and may you set yourselves up to succeed at whatever you have resolved to change.