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New Year's 'aspirations'

01/01/03 12:00AM By Cheryl Hanna
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(Host) Many people awoke this morning resolved to make a change their lives. Commentator Cheryl Hanna thinks that there might be a better way to go about it.

(Hanna) I've never been a big fan of New Year's resolutions. First, they're practically impossible to keep. Most of us won't even make it until Valentine's Day, let alone to next New Year's Eve. Besides, what we resolve to change about ourselves isn't always so admirable. The most popular resolutions, like lose weight and exercise, are often motivated far more by vanity than by health concerns, and can leave us feeling worse about ourselves, not better.

Believe it or not, the ritual of making a promise to better yourself has been around since the Babylonian era. But there's something distinctly American about it now. For example, there are now plenty of companies and professionals to help us stick to our resolutions for a price. Or if you're feeling like you're about to give into temptation, and your resolution is save money, you can turn to web sites like www.howtokeepyournewyearsresolution.com.

It's discouraging how many of us make promises that we'll never be able to keep, which is why I've sometimes claimed that my New Year's resolution is to make no resolution at all.

But this year, I'm giving into a modified version of change. Rather than a New Year's resolution, I suggest a New Year's "aspiration." After all, it's one thing to resolve, and quite another to aspire. To resolve means to decide, to be final. It's hard and harsh, and is a set-up for failure. To aspire, on the other hand, means to hope, to desire, to dream. It's a kinder, gentler, approach to making change in your life. Besides, you can't break an aspiration, you can only get closer to achieving it.

A few weeks ago, I did a workshop with some of Vermont's most promising leaders. I asked them to make a New Year's aspiration - a quality or virtue they hope to improve upon during the next year, but it could only be one word. Nothing complicated, just a single idea. What they said was quite inspirational, really. Some aspired to gratitude, balance, courage, and levity. Others names tolerance, commitment, and listening. Someone else said speaking. A few of us aspired to patience. One person hoped for activism, and another for peace.

I'm willing to bet that if people start making aspirations, rather than resolutions, they might actually find themselves changing in some very meaningful ways that could really make a difference in their lives, and the lives of others. So if you're already feeling discouraged because you haven't yet jogged three miles, or guilty for having eaten leftovers from last night's party, I suggest you forget about your resolution, and come up with a one word New Year's aspiration. Resolve, by the way, doesn't count.

This is Cheryl Hanna. Happy New Year!

Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont.


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