We have each written the things we want to leave behind in 2017 on scraps of paper. Two of the adults want to stop shouting, one “unnecessary shouting” and one “shouting at the dog”. Another is getting rid of “enjoying moaning”. I write down that I’m leaving behind “feeling not enough”. The teenager won’t tell hers. “It’s things I’m not proud of,” she says. Fair enough.
We throw our pieces of paper on to the burning logs in the fireplace, to symbolically say goodbye to those things for ever.
This year, I’m welcoming in 2018 with an anti-resolution, aka a ritual. It’s been created by Donna Lancaster, a relationship and life coach who uses ritual as part of her emotional-detox residential retreat, The Bridge. She believes resolutions, at root, often come from a negative or harsh view of ourselves. “They’re usually set up in the way that, somehow, we are not enough,” she says, ie they’re based on the fact we need to look different or be better in some way.
But rituals, on the other hand, are “a beautiful way to honour and mark moments in our lives of beginnings and endings”. And ritual is powerful – a Harvard Business School piece of research, published in December 2017, showed rituals help people feel in control in difficult times. And you don’t even have to believe in them for ritual to work – in one study of loss, the non-believers saw their grief lessened by the same amount.
A Harvard Business School piece of research, published in December 2017, showed rituals help people feel in control in difficult times
Lancaster’s ritual comes in the form of making vows to yourself. “It’s not about what you want – or new year, new you – but about reclaiming what you are, rather than becoming something new,” she says. You can do the ritual alone or in a group, and it goes like this:
1 Decide what you want to leave in 2017
Write down what you want to leave behind in 2017. It could be anything, from being unkind to yourself or overthinking to overstretching your time. Then everyone says it out loud, using the words: “I am choosing to let go of…”. Afterwards, you all throw your papers into the fire (or set them alight in an ashtray or plant pot or bin – be careful!) and watch them burn. “Throwing it into the fire is a powerful way of marking the moment of transformation, releasing the negative,” says Lancaster.
2 Decide what you want to bring into 2018
On special cards, write down what qualities you are taking with you into the new year. It’s about things you might have lost – joy or trust, kindness or innocence, hope or playfulness. Share with the group and place in a jar to keep.
After we’ve thrown our papers in the fire, we read out the qualities we’d like to keep – or all of us except the teenager do. This one is also private, she says. Our vows for 2018 include “more love”, “seize the day” and to be “more respectful”. One of the 10-year-olds writes down “Xbox”. When I try to say that’s not the point and I’m not buying one, he says: “But that’s what I’d like to have and keep in 2018.” I write down "bravery" on my paper.
We put our pieces of positive paper in a jar. And our New Year ritual is over. I’m not sure what, exactly, I was expecting to feel when I screwed up my paper and chucked it into the flames. There was no big green flash like the magical floo powder in Harry Potter and none of us disappeared. But it did feel as if, by the act of writing it down, I found some clarity about how I’d like to be. And I found the others’ honesty touching and very human, too (although I’m still not buying an XBox). “We have been sitting around fires for thousands of years,” says Lancaster. “When you create the space, something magical happens.” She’s right – it does feel as if we shared something a little bit magical.
This is part of our special new-year series called Small Change, Big Difference – small things you can do in 2018 (and not big unrealistic resolutions you can't keep). To read more in the series, click here