Smack Dab in the Middle of Life: Tragedy and New Year’s Resolutions

While the resolutions that come with a flip of the calendar are rarely associated with tragedy, the two actually have a lot in common. The sport of basketball tragically lost a larger-than-life legend in Kobe Bryant, who died along with eight other people (including two 13-year olds and 14-year old, one of them being his daughter) a little over a week ago.

The accident has stunned this country and maybe even the world, at least in the places where professional basketball is popular. Regardless of your views of Kobe Bryant on and/or off the court, you would probably agree that this was tragic on many levels. So many people were impacted, heartbroken for these families, and the fact that three children never had a chance to truly live is gut-wrenching. I am one of those people who were stunned, especially being the dad of a daughter who turned 14 the day of this tragic accident and a son who turned 17 the week after. It hit home. Nobody wants to see young people go so soon or have the surviving parents or siblings suffer as they are.  

This story is about what tragedy does to us and how it begets action that pitters out quickly or rarely comes at all. I put pen to paper and wrote this at the end of January. If you are like me, we are all fresh off our new year’s resolution failures—those that, despite our desires, die in the trap of inaction.   

The Connection

Tragedy and New Year’s resolutions are inherently connected; our minds take us on similar paths as we work through them. Of course, the two are very different, yet the more I thought about it, the more the human brain processes them the same way. At least mine does.

As a tragedy develops or the calendar flips to usher in a new year, three things seem to happen to us. First, we fall into a very reflective state. Secondly, we make decisions on action we must take. The third thing we do is move toward action.

Many people are going through this process as the Kobe Bryant tragedy continues to unfold. The same happened at the end of December as new year’s resolutions filled the air, especially with desire on social media. Through this process, many people stop at the doorstep of action. To be clear, there is NO connection to the loss of innocent lives in a tragedy and a failed new year’s resolution, except how we process them.

The Reflective State

When tragedy strikes or a new year is coming, we enter a deep reflective mode. We ask tough questions that we may not have the easy answers to. We ask unanswerable questions about the loss of life for the young. Or, with the new year, we say we want to change this or that going forward. We become what I would call hyper-reflective. We question, we sit in silence, we stress ourselves as we think of what might have been or what can be.    

Some people turn to meditation, others may turn to prayer, and most reflect on their own lives and situations. The extrovert will turn to others to process, and most likely the introvert will turn inward to think through it alone. All types of people reflect in their own ways.

Decisions and “I wills”

After the reflective state begins to wane, the human mind turns to “let’s make decisions” mode. Many times, these decisions are steeped in I willstatements. You know what those are. They may look like the following:

  • I will – Be more present at home
  • I will – Work more balanced
  • I will – Lose 20 pounds 
  • I will – Start a business 
  • I will – End a bad relationship
  • I will – Write a book
  • I will – Find love
  • I will – Say “I love you” more
  • I will – I will hug my kids before I leave for work and tell them I love them
  • I will – Fire my boss
  • I will – Get out of this rut

After deep thought, we decide what we will do. Now, all of these “I wills” that come from our reflections are all good; there is not a bad one in the bunch if that is what is on our minds. The lists can be exhaustive to cover everything in our lives we think needs renovation or complete overhauls. We are moved to action from tragedy and every passing new year. Time seems inexplicably slipping through our hands, and we must act. We have reflected and made decisions, and now we move to action. 


Taking action is the third prong of this three-pronged fork. This is where the rubber meets the road, or does it? What happens after a tragedy? We reflect, we decide, and we say, “I will do this or that.” What happens after a couple of days or maybe a week goes by? Maybe the slightest change in saying “I love you” more or calling that friend we need to call, but it seems more often than not, nothing changes. Nothing happens from our deep reflections. All we see is our own reflection in the mirror, as we ruminate about change that must happen and rarely comes.

What about those new year’s resolutions? We reflect, we decide, but then what happens to the action after a day, a week or a month? Nothing. We go right back to our old habits, don’t we?  Action becomes the problem phase. All that reflection and decision-making does not hold. In fact, many times we don’t even start. Why?

Why do we fail to follow through or not have the discipline to make necessary changes? We have the reflecting piece down, the decision is made, and then when it gets to acting we wilt like a fragile flower in a rain shower. It really boils down to tenacity, application, fanaticism (the good kind), and extreme effort. We can call those things “TAFEE.”

It takes TAFEE to stick to our decisions and act. It is a mindset, but we need to be more specific than that. That mindset needs to be specific so that TAFEE cannot only begin but sustain action. 

The Wrap

Both tragedy and new year’s resolutions can be difficult and very challenging for clearly different reasons. The process we go through seems to be the same: reflect, decide, and act. We know that action does not come easy.

In order to fight through to the third phase, we need to eat some TAFEE to make it stick.. Treat your decision with tenacity. Make sure you apply your action to your decision. Be fanatical about your decision and apply consistent and extreme effort so that you’ll follow through. There is no shortcut or easy button around it.

During the next tragedy or when the calendar flips next year and you begin to reflect, go grab some TAFEE and make some real changes. To the Bryant’s and the other families who lost so much a week ago, I am truly sorry for your pain. To all of us, me included who pledged to be different the next day and did nothing, push through and make the action stick. Life is precious and fragile. Do you need anymore evidence than a picture of this Dad holding his daughter?

Onward and up.

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