There isn’t anything magical to me about 12:00 A.M. on Saturday when 2011 arrives.
Sure, you may have made some resolutions or more informally said to yourself that “things will be different in the new year” but chances are, they probably won’t.
The concept of liminal time is one I learned in graduate school when I took many graduate classes with Eviatar Zerubavel. Professor and author of many books in cognitive sociology, Zerubavel used The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life to explore the ways in which we create mental boundaries where no clear ones exist for the purpose of keeping life ordered. That is, we artifically make distinctions where they may not exist, or their empirical boundaries are far fuzzier. For example, while “life” and “death” may seem discrete, polar opposites, public debates over when does life begin? (conception, birth) and what constitutes the end of life? (brain death) are, of course, far more controversial. At first glance the question Is it alive or dead? seems deceptively simple.
And so while “clean breaks” and “fresh starts” for the new year sound lovely, in essence there is no reason to believe that just because the numbers 2011 are attached to something will necessarily mean a life different than 2010. While taxes and health insurance may get reset on January 1st, the financial situations and health statuses that carry over from December 31 are unlikely to be very different once the metaphorical calendar page has been turned.
Years ago, of course, the calendar was real, and so was the page. We purchased new datebooks and the clear, fresh pages symbolized the new start we would have. While some maintain this tradition, others (like me) have abandoned the tangible book-style calendar for the electronic one. The same swipe which turns us from December 30 to 31 takes us from 2010 to 2011. The joy of the trip to the stationery store to pick a new datebook is gone for me. My new year begins without effort.
We like to think a new year will bring new things. We hope it will mean the end of unpleasant situations in our life. We often make resolutions to help ensure that old habits will not be repeated. But there’s a reason gym attendance falls off sharply in February and March as enthusiasm wanes and old habits resume.
This isn’t to say that changes can’t be made. This news should not be considered depressing. On the contrary, the message is to say that they can be made any day, at any time. Perhaps the new year is easier to designate as the “fresh start.” But in the realm of cognitive sociology, there is no reason to expect that 12:00 on January 1st, 2011 will be any different than 11:59 on December 31, 2010.
So use the new year as a starting point if you must, but keep in mind that any day of the year will do. It’s easy to say 2011 will be better or different. But in my mind it’s just another day, dealing with the same things as any other. And thinking it’s going to be different or better only serves to set myself up for disappointment if it’s not.
How about you: In your experience is thinking about the new year as new helpful? Do you make resolutions? Do you stick with them? Do you prefer to make resolutions and fail rather than not make them at all?