We are a week into the new year. How’s that resolution doing? I’ve said many times on the blog that I’m not a New Year’s resolution person. A couple of years ago, in “Be it resolved (or not) that…” I explained that in my view, “Resolutions to do everything differently, that this will be the year, and so forth, are (for me) a glorified version of the Monday morning weight loss plan, exercise plan, running program…Usually doomed to fail and make feel badly about myself.”
I know that sounds really negative, but I don’t actually mean it to be. In fact, my aversion to resolutions is so strong that when Anita asked me why I don’t do New Year’s resolutions I was sort of stumped about how to answer. I mean, from one perspective, what could possibly be wrong with a grand plan to do things differently?
My resistance to resolutions is meant more to be a realistic assessment of the prospects of successful radical overnight change. Though some around me might beg to differ, I actually favour less willful and more “go with the flow” approaches to change. I like the small nudge in a new direction. The tiny step towards an aspirational goal.
In some ways I am indeed a goal-driven person. I like to have little (or big) things ahead that help me gain some focus on what I need to do today if I’m going to get there. This isn’t exactly “living in the future,” but instead using possible futures to give some shape to the actual present.
I think of resolutions as having their source in harsh self-judgments of what people find unacceptable in themselves. They’re usually about losing weight, getting fit, working harder, not procrastinating anymore, spending less, keeping a tidier home, meditating more…the list goes on. There is nothing wrong with any of these goals really, but they pass judgment on the version of ourselves that we are at the present — overweight, unfit, a slacker who procrastinates, overspends, doesn’t clean up enough, and has fallen off her meditation practice.
It’s not that I think I couldn’t make better choices, but the harsh quality of a resolution seem to me to overstate things, framing the new habits as required for whipping the old unacceptable version of me into shape (on various measures). There is a “should-ness” about them that doesn’t sit right with me.
I’m not averse to making different choices tomorrow from the ones I made today. I can see how doing so can take me in healthy new directions, one day at a time. And maybe there is a gentle way to approach resolutions. But the way people talk about the people who fill the gyms in early January only to disappear by mid-February–as having failed their resolutions–makes me wonder whether a gentler way simply doesn’t qualify as a resolution at all.
The idea that I can start in a new direction any time — any day of the year, any day of the week, any time of day. It doesn’t need to be January 1st, Monday, or first thing in the morning. If a morning goes off the rails, I can get things going in a more fulfilling direction after lunch. If Monday comes and goes, I can start Tuesday. If the first week of January didn’t come together quite as I visualized it would, I can tackle the second week differently. There need not be an all or nothing quality to these choices. And that’s where I think January 1, Monday, and first thing in the morning set us up badly.
I started working on a program for dealing with procrastination outlined in Neil Fiore’s book The Now Habit, way back when I was a graduate student in the late 80s and early 90s. I learned about the concepts of continuing to start, setting realistic goals, and scheduling the fun stuff and working around that. It has been in relation to my writing mostly, as well as other academic commitments, that I’ve implemented these ideas over the years, to varying degrees of success at various times of my life.
Now this may not be the case for everyone. I just know myself well enough now to know that big changes don’t work for me. And changes are more likely to stick if they’re attached to tangible goals. For example, the Around the Bay 30K on March 31st is helping me stick to my training plan much more than any resolution to do things differently ever has.
The upshot: I don’t resolve because I want to be kinder to myself today. And resolutions seem like harsh judgments to implement punishing tasks that we’re averse to — if we weren’t averse, we wouldn’t need to resolve.
Having said that, if you have opted for resolutions for 2019, I wish you all the best! And regardless of whether you’ve resolved or not, have a great day, week, month, year, and remember that you can start with gentle steps in a new direction any day of the year or week and any time of day.