It was my wish to write on New Year’s resolutions a few weeks ago but decided it might serve a greater purpose to wait until the end of the month. From what I have read, it would seem late January is the time when the majority of resolution-makers have just about burned through their reserve of resolve and stand resigned to give up. Hopefully, by waiting until this crucial time to broach the topic, I may yet be able to inspire those who are still narrowly clinging to their newer, better selves.
I know it’s difficult breaking free from habits of the past. Holding strong against the delights of familiar comforts seems to drag time out like a garden rake across your car’s paint job. A month can seem a year (That’s the reason why we do ‘Dry January’ and not ‘Dry 2020’. What asshole can go 12 months without Pinot Noir? Not this one!). Difficult, however, is the very point. What kind of personal growth can I expect if I choose as my New Year’s resolution to forgo eating microwaved organ meat, or avow not to wait until the last day of the month that my car is due for inspection to get it inspected (It’s February. Leap year bonus day!). No, if you think you can easily keep your resolution until after the Phillies have fallen under .500, then you haven’t challenged yourself enough. Now, don’t vow to master Cantonese before years-end, instead, turn to changes and growth which you have long put off. You know what it is. Maybe, you can return to that which you tried and failed at before. If you want a true measure of growth, I can’t think of a better way to go than to conquer something at which you previously failed. If you try again it wasn’t a failure. It’s only if you became too afraid to try again that you truly failed.
Whatever you choose to resolve, be sure to pick specific goals, Don’t choose a useless platitude like: “I want to be a better person.” Of course, you do. Few people who live outside the Washington D.C. beltway actively strive to be more of a scoundrel. Instead of just wanting to be a ‘better person’, volunteer for your favorite charity or vow to smile at and find something to compliment about each new person whose introduction you make; be present to them – don’t think about your next words while they’re speaking. If your goal is getting healthy, like mine, don’t say: “I’m gonna work out more and eat vegetables,” instead say: “The person I wish to become wakes up early every other day to get to the gym before work, doesn’t consume refined sugar, drinks 100 ounces of water each day and fasts 24 hours at least once per month.” The point is resolve to challenges that are measurable and hold yourself accountable to those measurements. Journals might come in handy here.
Hedge your bets. Choose two or three things to change, but don’t go too crazy. You want to get outside your comfort zone, for that’s where growth happens, but changing too much and too fast is to risk not giving each resolution the attention that it needs and deserves. Pick a big resolution like losing 40 pounds and add a couple of minor ones to go along with it, like reading a new book each month or making the bed every day. If one resolution falls to the wayside, all is not lost – pour your freed energy into one of the others. Come away at the end of the year with at least one victory. In this way, I always nail at least one New Year’s resolution. In 2016, I dropped every resolution I made except for the one about making the bed. It became a habit, a streak, I cannot bring myself to break. I’m the Cal Ripken Jr. of bed making! It only takes a couple minutes each morning, but when your wife realizes she hasn’t made the bed in four years, it pays big dividends.
Many will say that New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time and mock those who do make them as doomed to fail. They say: “No one can change who they are!” Well, not with that attitude, they can’t. Seek out people who will support your efforts and who don’t pull you down with their own fear that they will be left behind. Other people often belittle New Year’s resolutions as too constricting – that any day is a good time to start becoming a better you. Of course, they are right. Whatever day that epiphany or moment of clarity hits is the time to strike. I have found, however, that days are cheap, that it is too easy to declare that tomorrow is another day to start. Because days come around, well, daily, it’s easy to push your start to the next arbitrary day, and then the next, and then the next. The idea of a New Year’s resolution is the very fact that it’s not just some arbitrary day. It is the end of one year and the start of another. Unlike tomorrow, New Year’s day can be seen coming for many weeks. You have time to prepare for your new challenges; that you think about it for some time in advance gives you the ability to add momentousness to the day. When you draw a line in the sand and spend weeks telling people: “That is the day! That line is the starting line!” then you ante up your character into the pot. Who wants to betray their own character? No, tomorrow isn’t good enough. Days are cheap and easy to throw away. Years, however? How many of those do you get in life?
In the end, you may not hit your goals. Don’t let failure rob you of the fact that at least you tried. You did not lose, you learned. And, when you try again – and you will try again – you will be armed with all manner of new information to better steer you through the shoals of change. It took me six attempts to quit smoking (cigarettes, that is, – crack, you’re next!). The first five attempts were not failures, they were an education in how to quit smoking. It’s now been a decade since I’ve had so much as a drag. No one is an expert at new habits. If a person was, it would be an instinct, not a habit they were exercising. New habits are gained by trial, failure, learning and trial again. The point is don’t give up.
Seize the power of the fresh start offered by a new year, that is, Carpe Annum. Don’t think of the length of a year, break it into months. Rededicate yourself each month. Heck, you already made it one month, you can do another, especially February – it’s so short! (Damned car inspection!) Take it week by week. Seize the days of each week, that is, Carpe Diem. When it comes down to it, you cannot control the past or future, you must live your new you in each passing present. That is true mindfulness, and in it, you can accomplish anything. So, Carpe Momentum Temporis, that is, Seize the Moment.