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Ruth Kuefler

Old Hopes for a New Year

January 3, 2008 at 3:19 PM

A few days ago, I was thinking . . . what is it about New Year's that makes everyone make all these resolutions? I mean, besides the fact that the date ends in 2008, January 1, is pretty much exactly the same as December 31. So what's the big deal? It's all psychological. Big whoop.

But then, after my initial cynicism (thankfully) waned, I got to thinking, 'But you know . . . psychology, in some ways, is everything.' We make all these resolutions at New Year's precisely because 2008 feels fresh, unspoiled, new. There's just something about starting another year that is inherently encouraging, inviting change, growth, revolution.

I suppose my initial cynicism really came from my own disappointment in the fact that . . . well, I don't think I've ever really kept a New Year's resolution, whether to eat healthier, pray more, study harder, or practice longer. I mean, sure I'd hang in there for a month, maybe two, but after that, it's sliding back into old ways. I'd get guilty and discouraged because I couldn't meet my own expectations, and before you knew it, I (usually subconsciously) said to myself, 'Fine, whatever, I can't do this, and I don't feel like it, so why bother trying?'

So you know what I decided?

Psychology is everything.

So, instead of setting strict or overly specific goals for resolutions this year, I've decided that instead, I need to create an environment or framework that simply makes me want and enjoy the changes I'd like in my life. And since I know I can never perfectly achieve my goals anyway, I'm trying to think of them in terms of constant, gradual improvement, rather than something like 'Okay, if I lose 5 pounds in 2 weeks, I'll be happy.' Like I've heard somewhere or other, "If you aren't moving forward, you're slipping behind."

Well, one thing I'd really like for this new year is to practice more often and more creatively. I have a lot of new music to go along with my new year, and I know already that the only way I'll be able to handle the volume of repertoire is to simply practice more than I did last semester. However, I know if I set an exact goal like "I must practice 4 hours every day or else," then I'll just end up getting discouraged when I can't meet that, or I might fall into sloppy practice on a tired day, or slack off when technically I meet my time goal but still have work I can and should do on a particular day. So, I'm working to create an encouraging environment more practicing. I've started a practicing journal, where I'm recording the content and time of what I work on each day. It's in a nice little notebook I decorated myself, and I have colored markers for writing in it (what can I say? I'm a sucker for pretty colors). I've also decided to "go with the flow" more when I practice. So, if after 20 minutes of Sarasate I feel restless and drained, I'll take a break and grab some tea instead of forcing an entire hour. Or, if I'm on a roll with my Mozart, I'll keep going as long as I can, until I start to get tired or lose concentration. I think overall, this plan will help bring more life and quality to my practicing.

I'm applying this same concept to some other goals as well. I'd like to take better care of my health, so I'm drinking more tea and trying to eat more fruits and veggies in forms that I enjoy, like salads. I want to be more organized with my classes and teaching, so I'm trying to keep on top of my schedule with some some new binders and planners (hand-decorated, because, knowing myself, I'll always be more inclined to use something pretty and personal, rather than something ugly and generic, especially in the dull, dreary days of winter ahead). I want to pray more, so I'm exploring some books and meditations that I find meaningful and inspiring, instead of the same old same old that I was neglecting.

And all these goals are connected. The healthier I stay, the more energy I'll have for classes and practicing. The better organized I am, the more time I save for all these different pursuits. The more I pray, the more peaceful and less stressed I am. The more I practice, the more hopeful and confident I feel.

I know I'm ambitious. I know I'll have bad days, and get frustrated. But I also know that small, gradual, but real steps will bring the most rewarding progress. Like Goethe said, "Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it; boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."

Notice he says begin it. Not complete it, or perfect it, or accomplish it in a day, or a week, or even a year, but begin it. Each day I want to be beginning anew in some way, if just a tiny bit. Wish me luck. :)

From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 3, 2008 at 4:29 PM
Good luck! We'll see if your system works. Keep us updated.
From Karin Lin
Posted on January 5, 2008 at 12:09 AM
That's a really great Goethe quote. Thanks for sharing it.

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