man with fireworks

New Year; New You

“The strongest species don’t survive; the most adaptable do” Clem Sunter, former Anglo-American scenario planner

2024 is a new year with its arrival still ringing in our ears. However, it’s a loaded year, burdened with many old problems. On the local front, load shedding is causing havoc in the economy, unemployment remains an enduring challenge, crime and corruption continue unabated, and service delivery in many metros has deteriorated significantly. And being an election year, South Africa faces the uncertainty of what the outcomes might be if the body politic is realigned.

Even deja vu is a blank canvas

Internationally, the war in Ukraine grinds on. In Gaza, there is the real danger of a broadening of the conflict, and at the World Economic Forum at Davos, the rich prattle away whilst poor countries battle with economic turmoil and the effects of climate change. But even with the deja vu of facing such familiar problems, 2024 still presents a blank canvas for new possibilities. And as with all new beginnings, it holds plenty of promise for us to make our brushstrokes that capture our dreams and aspirations.

Lights Over South Africa. The New Year is here. Photo by GoToVan

Even with all the upheaval globally, we have agency to feel either hope or despair. Whichever feeling we choose will have an important bearing on the year because our attitudes will shape our perceptions, our behaviour, and ultimately our outcomes. So, despite the immense challenges we see or face, we can take heart from the words of late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who once wrote: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the Darkness.”

Choosing to be hopeful is strategic.

Choosing to be hopeful is more than passive naiveté. It should be an intentional process, conscious and strategic, encouraging us to evaluate challenges from multiple perspectives. More importantly, it requires us to be proactive and to seek ways to address problems. Psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Dr Viktor Frankl, wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning (1956) how he and fellow captives retained their sanity through intentionally practising what he referred to as the last of human freedoms, that is “the freedom to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances”. They chose hope because hope is inspiring, invokes positive action and invites collaboration. Humans naturally gravitate towards hope because it makes us feel good.

But is hope sufficient for us to navigate the challenges in a world that’s increasingly complex and uncertain? The late Stephen Covey provides a possible answer in his bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989). One of his recommended habits is Starting with the End in Mind. What is it that we want to achieve this year? What resources, assistance or skills are needed to achieve our aspirations? Clearly defined goals provide us with more focus and enable us to put measurable milestones in place.

Kaizen: making small incremental improvements

However, we also have to be realistic about our goals and that we won’t always get what we want. There are many structural hurdles over which we have limited control. This does not mean we are powerless. Prosperity and success are built on small, consistent gains. In Japanese corporate philosophy, it’s referred to as kaizen; making small incremental improvements.

Finally, it’s not possible to craft a new year with an old mindset. To be future-fit will require us to introspect, learn and adapt. Alvin Toffler summed this up beautifully in Future Shock (1970) when he wrote: “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read nor write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” So, to be literate in the current world, we have to be receptive to life-long learning, unlearn dysfunctional habits and relearn what we might have forgotten along life’s journey.

New beginnings in 2024 will belong to those who are proactive, who can anticipate trends and who are less risk-averse to navigate difficult situations. They will be the ones who will be infinitely better prepared to cope with life’s enduring challenges.

Rudi Kimmie (PhD) is a human and organisational development specialist. He writes in his personal capacity.

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