New Year’s resolutions suck. Here’s what to do instead.

New Year's Resolutions Suck

Chocolate cake and kale

December 31st, 2003, I resolved to lose ten pounds, quit smoking, and cut back on caffeine by the end of 2004.  I had been making those same New Year’s resolutions for the past seven years at that point – since I was sixteen.  But no matter.  This was going to be my year dammit!

By January 2nd, 2004 I was hungry, tired, very cranky and smelling vaguely of kale, I determined that 2004 sucked.

On December 31st, of that year, cigarette in one hand, coffee in another, berating myself after finishing a piece of chocolate-sticky-cake-of-death, once again mentally gearing up for the deprivation game known as January, some sort of switch flipped in my head.

kale
Don’t do this to yourself.

“No,” I said to myself.  “I’m not doing this again.  It doesn’t work.”  Hey, it only took me eight years to figure that out…  but surprisingly, I still seem to have a head start on most people when it comes to that realization.

The myth of the iron will

I wasn’t giving up on these goals, as I know I wouldn’t have been okay with just “accepting” that I would be a certain weight – That would take another fifteen years.  But I could let go of tying it to January 1st.  I have quit many things in my life – cigarettes, alcohol, dieting… pretty much everything but coffee at this point, and had many failed attempts along the way.  But not one of my successes was tied to a New Year’s resolution.  To be successful, there was always an outside trigger that made me finally not want to do the destructive behavior anymore.  It wasn’t always necessarily a serious situation, just something more than an arbitrary date.  I have just never been a person who can rely on willpower alone.

Despite what I tell myself, I am not simply a weak-willed jellyfish with no self-control as I had secretly believed.  It turns out that willpower is an exhaustible resource.  Let’s say you spend all day trying to make nice with a co-worker who frustrates the hell out of you. Or keeping your cool with your child while they have an out-of-control day. Maybe you spent the day forcing yourself to do all the work, chores and emotional labor that must be done instead of collapsing on the couch.  Chances are there will come a point in the day where you say, “Screw it.  I’m having a brownie.”  It happens so fast, and you don’t’ understand how you came to that decision when you truly do want to eat healthier.  You weren’t thinking rationally because your brain was DONE.

Brownie
I win again.

Yet every January people pile resolution on top of resolution.  Feeling gross from months of excesses of food, drink, spending, etc., we search for balance.  We are a marketer’s dream and snatch up whatever miracle cure (ahem, lifestyle change) is hot this year.

Spoiler alert – There is nothing special about this year. You will not turn into Gwyneth Paltrow overnight, able to subsist solely on barley and superiority.

 The game changer

There is an odd little quirk to this story.  Because of my perfectionistic tendencies, I couldn’t just sit by and let everyone else make resolutions and not make any of my own.  What if they became better than me?!  Even though intellectually I knew this wasn’t how things worked, I didn’t feel comfortable just doing nothing.  It felt like slacking.  So, I made a different kind of resolution.  I decided to learn about one non-school/non-work thing that year.  Just something I was interested in.  And I have done it every year since.

Some of the things I have learned in the past twelve years of doing this:

  • Handwriting analysis
  • Crochet
  • How to surf
  • Calligraphy
  • How to sew
  • Wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo (a bad one)
  • HTML and CSS
  • Started this blog

People who haven’t known me long sometimes ask me how I know how to do “everything” and it makes me embarrassed because I don’t want to seem like a know-it-all.  But I do have a lot of extra skills because of this one decision I repeatedly make every January.

You don’t need to know exactly what it is on January 1st.  I usually don’t. Just keep your eyes and ears open.  When you hear about something that interests you, ask yourself, “Do I want to look into this more?”  There are SO many cool things out there in the world, you will never get to all of them.  But you can get to more than most people ever do just by giving it some conscious thought.

I know you don’t have a ton of time.  Neither do I.  This can take up as much or as little of your time as you like.  You don’t have to MASTER something, just see if it’s for you.   Read up on it on your phone when you have five minutes.  Let yourself go down a clickhole with it.  Give yourself an afternoon to try a new activity.  If it’s safe you can bring your kids and/or your partner.  You don’t have to learn alone.

Make a wish list

Isn’t a wish list so much more appealing than a resolution?  It’s something you want to do, not something you have to do.  And I’m not talking about dressing up your inner drill sergeant in friendlier clothing.  I’m saying take whatever you think is “wrong with you” out of the equation.  This isn’t about fixing anything.  This is about FUN.

Ask yourself:

What do I want to MAKE this year?

What do I want to TRY?

What do I want to LEARN?

Write these down on paper.  I like to keep mine in my bullet journal.  It’s sort of the lazy way to set an intention.

This year I want to MAKE pizza at home, TRY a trapeze class, and Learn…  I don’t know yet but I’m excited to find out.

What about you?

What will you try this year?  What will you learn?

 

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