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The online home for Lisa McSherry, author and priestess

Bringing in the New

We all stand on the brink of the new year, the cusp between times.

No wonder it seems like a good time to shed the old and welcome the new. Resolutions are made now, drawing on the power of this change time to manifest them. Or that’s the hope.

But I urge you to consider this: you cannot make change until you have made room for those changes in your life. It is much harder to quit smoking when you don’t have something else to do with your hands (or lips) instead. Or lose weight if you don’t make other changes that support your loss.

I believe we witches all have THREE “new years” each and every year:

1. Our birthing-day. This is the most powerful one for me. I take time before the date itself to chronicle the past year. I look at my achievements and record them, honoring myself for having done so much. I especially am proud of those things I did that I did not plan to do. For me, those were opportunities that I took, rather than putting off, or ignoring because they weren’t “in the plan.”

2. Samhain. The witch’s new year. This day represents the ‘pause’ point after the heavy work of the triple harvest (grain, fruit, and meat). Our ancestors worked long hours for many months to get it all done before the first freeze made it impossible to do much more. Samhain is a good time to reflect on your achievements, honor your ancestors and relax into the (relative) quiet of winter’s coming.

3. January 1st. For all that some call the calendar a meaningless invention, there is a whole lot of free-floating energy to be found in hordes of people recognizing that this is an opportunity for change. The energy is neutral, good, or negative, depending on your perception. For years I discounted it, believing that resolutions made now were grandiose and without true thought. Desperate resolutions, made from need, not desire or because of the weight of society’s expectations, rather than true choice.

And they can still be that. But we can make choices that arise from our contemplations at Samhain. We can use this time to make ‘course corrections’ so that we are closer to our true desires and clearer about what we want to manifest in the coming year. The desire to write a novel felt _right_ at Samhain, but you haven’t had the time to write more than an outline since then. Perhaps re-focusing to complete a chapter, a section, or a specific word count is the better resolution to make.  Instead of berating ourselves for not having lost any of the 50 lbs. we wanted to lose, we can renew our commitment to lose weight in a slow, steady manner. We can re-set our goal to something more like “one pound a week” or even “I will eat one piece of fruit every day and walk for ½ hour three times a week.: (For some of us, it can be a major achievement to just stop drinking soda or eating pretzels.)

As eager as we might be for a fresh start we are mindful that the old never goes out with a whimper. Changing habits can be as difficult as quitting drinking for an alcoholic or heroin for an addict. It’s not just about willpower, although having the fortitude to deny one’s self that which once caused us pleasure has a lot to do with willpower. It seems that creating new habits to replace the old ones is the most successful strategy for making permanent change.

For example: if you smoke indoors, and want to quit, the first thing to do might be to start smoking outside only. When it’s cold outside, smoking isn’t quite as much of a pleasure. Oh, and you’ll have to stop what you are doing to get dressed and go outside, so you’ll probably do it less often. You house will smell better and be cleaner, making three positives for one small change.

I’ve found that it is tempting to make sweeping changes and get really focused on doing it all at once. But it is almost guaranteed that you won’t be able to sustain the energy for all those changes and so you slip a little here, a little there. . . until you realize you haven’t made any progress at all, and despair sets in.

My greatest successes came from making changes in small increments. Last year, for example, I committed to eating less processed food and making sure that most of my meals came from organic/all-natural raw products. White flour and processed products were replaced by whole grains (brown rice for white, etc.). As a result, the quality of my food improved, and my flavor profile increased dramatically. This year, I intend to make sure my meals are more balanced, with less starch and meat and more fruits, vegetables and lean protein. What this means is that my weight did not fluctuate very much this last year, even though I essentially did no exercise, and my health was better overall. Next year, I will continue to enjoy as much food as I want, but it will be of such high quality that I am going to feel great. I will likely lose weight because my overall portions will be balanced and the need for “fillers” (that is, sweets and snacks) will be less. (This is true for me, not for everyone.) If I _still_ feel like I need to lose weight (or something) I’ll start watching the portions and that is the closest I will come to a diet.

I need to note something here: I fundamentally *like* myself. My desire to shift my food intake comes not from a need to lose weight but to live better, with fuller enjoyment. Weight is subject to too many variables to use as an accurate gauge of health. My preference is to use a tape measure to gauge my physical status; having a waistline smaller than one’s shoulders’ width is a good start for an adult.

Small changes feel harder, and don’t give us as big a result as fast as we want it. But they tend to be the changes that we keep up with. And so, the longer-term result is much bigger and easier to maintain. Science tells us that if we want to make something a habit we must do it for 30 consecutive days. The month of January is conveniently just right for that. Personally, I think that if we miss a day and get back to it, the habit can still “stick.” No matter what, if you want to make resolutions, I urge you to make room for the new habits, change the old ones, and start small for long term success.

Bringing in the New

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