Lose 5kg. Get to the gym at least four times a week. Definitely join a yoga class. We were tossing around the same old New Year resolutions that we did every year, a harmless enough last-week-of-the-year activity, until our daughter, who was then 6, piped up and said we should have a “family resolution”. We paused, wondering how to explain to her the unspoken script surrounding New Year resolutions: Make promises with gusto, forget them a week later. We asked instead what she would like it to be. It has been a decade and a half, but I can still remember the moment. “We should be a joy-giving family,” she announced, lisping slightly through two missing front teeth. Hmm. This was much more than we had bargained for. And while our brains nervously tried to process how we might turn into a “joy-giving family”, she wrote out the words firmly with pink felt pen, drew a few purple stars around it, and so it was settled.
I am not sure if we have lived up to this lofty motto—the first year was relatively easy, we had to say more “please”, “thank you” and “sorry”, and she had to fight less with her brother, who was then 10—but it did start an annual family ritual that we have never missed. In fact, as the children grew older, our New Year resolution meetings expanded in scope to include wide-ranging personal goals like “have chiselled abs before leaving for college” or “finish first draft of the book” or “buy an apartment by July”. One thing, however, has remained constant—our daughter leads the meeting every year. That’s what makes it fun, and more importantly, that’s what makes it stick. Explaining to a seven-year-old (or even a 21-year-old) why you couldn’t accomplish your goal in 12 full months is not easy!
Quality time: Make your New Year resolutions with the entire family. Photo by Thinkstock.
Usually over a glass of wine, or dinner at a nice restaurant (the “chiselled abs” goal was written on the Christmas menu of our favourite restaurant, squeezed in between “tartar of salmon” and “risotto with lime and black caviar”) or tucked under a quilt in bed, or even a conference call now that the family is spread across different cities, we go over a well-rehearsed three-step format.
The first part is about savouring highlights of the year that was— learnt a new language, celebrated a landmark birthday, landed a first job, as also, sadly, the passing of a loved one, or dealing with a difficult disease—the usual pixels that make up lives, you list them out on paper, and suddenly you realize what a colourful year it has been. The next part is scary, taking stock of how we have fared against last year’s goals, usually a mixed bag of sheepish explanations and real achievements. And finally, making New Year resolutions, typically two or three personal objectives, and one or two for the family as a whole. And yes, some version of “lose 5kg” and “get chiselled abs” never fails to make the list.
Has this annual stocktaking and goal-setting exercise made a difference to our lives? It started in jest with zero expectations but as I look back over the years I have to say it has become a powerful tradition that we cherish.
Firstly, just the act of sitting down together as a family to pause and reflect, to engage in each other’s lives, to share and support personal dreams, that’s enough in itself. You put that in the context of the busy, Internet-speed, multi-city, multitasking, never-ending-job-list family lives of today, and just taking a break from that and spending a couple of hours talking about something meaningful is a luxury.
Secondly, silly as it may sound, I believe wishful thinking has a way of coming true. Just shifting gears from “what we are doing” to “what we’d really like to do” has some effect. They are simple enough wishes. Join a pottery class. Be a better parent. Get more As. Practise piano. Quit job. Start business. Travel less. Listen more. Fight no more than twice a week. Spend less time in the shower. Make a new friend. Learn to focus. Write every morning. And, of course, lose 5kg. Get chiselled abs.
I suppose it is a bit like corporate life where you set annual goals and track performance against them. This is the fun family edition of it, where instead of an exacting boss who expects you to deliver on the numbers, we have the youngest in the family presiding over it.
As the last week of the year approaches, I have butterflies in my tummy. It has been a particularly hard year on several fronts, and I am curious to know how we have fared vis-à-vis the goals we set. I know I have more misses than hits. Ironically, the one goal I have accomplished this year is—you guessed it—lose 5kg.
Radha Chadha is one of Asia’s leading marketing and consumer insight experts. She is the author of the best-selling book The Cult of the Luxury Brand: Inside Asia’s Love Affair with Luxury.
Write to Radha at email@example.com
Also Read | Radha’s previous Lounge columns