New Year’s Resolutions are bullshit. I won’t make them.
This is not news. There are dozens, if not hundreds of other people who have said the same thing and said it better. I’ll say it again anyway. I’ll try not to be preachy or pedantic. (Maybe that should be a resolution…)
The idea behind New Year’s resolutions is a good one. None of us is perfect. All of us have things we would like to change or improve in our life. Many of these things are health related — lose weight, stop smoking, cut down on alcohol, eat more sensibly, exercise more, and so on. Many are related to finances — save more, spend less, gamble less. Many are related to relationships — be kinder, be more patient, be more tolerant. Many are goal-based — get a better job, get a girlfriend or boyfriend, learn to play guitar, learn a new language.
These are all excellent goals and there are thousands more just like them. Each and every one of us should get up every day and try to be better that day than we were the day before. Having specific goals is a great way to do that.
But New Year’s resolutions are a lousy way of moving toward those goals. They’re externally imposed by society. They put a huge amount of pressure on you to perform and they usually don’t allow any slack for any kind of failure. While many people make their New Year’s resolutions with lots of enthusiasm and excitement, that fades within days. You slip back, you fall off the wagon, and by mid-January (early February at the latest) you’ve given up. “There’s always next year!”
Successful change of this sort is difficult and almost always takes time. For example, losing weight. If you’re thirty or fifty pounds overweight, you didn’t just wake up that way this morning after looking like a professional athlete. Assuming there isn’t a medical condition causing the problem, you almost certainly got there by eating poorly, eating too much, and exercising far too little for years and years and years. You have spent years or even decades establishing habits and a lifestyle that are deeply ingrained.
Isn’t it obvious that it’s going to take years and years to reverse all of those issues? There really isn’t any rocket science here.
This is not intended in any way to be a downer, or to discourage anyone who’s trying to improve their life, today or any other day. Quite the opposite. I’m arguing for a reality-based, common sense approach because I think this approach works where New Year’s resolutions so rarely do.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” has been a cliche for a couple thousand years. It’s also been true.
There’s nothing magical or special about January 1st. It’s an arbitrary day on an arbitrary calendar based on arbitrary events thousands of years ago which are dated inaccurately to begin with.
If you have an improvement that you want in your life, if you have a change that you need in your life, you have to start a little bit at a time. You can make that start on January 1st, March 15th, July 23rd, or December 31st. There are 365 days in the year and you can start to make these changes on any of them.
Change is painful. Rooting out deeply ingrained “bad” habits and replacing them with “better” habits is hard and painful. You have to finally get to a point where you realize that the bad habits are also painful. It might be like being nibbled to death by ducks, but you have to face the fact that you’re actually being nibbled to death. You have to finally know and accept at a cellular level that the pain of staying on the “comfortable” road you’re on is more painful than the “hard” road of making changes. You have to get it into your head that you are going to make the change because you want to or need to and nothing’s going to stop you, not because it happens to be January 1st and society and your friends say you should.
Sure, sometimes events can force people into making drastic, radical changes overnight. If you have a heart attack, you might need to start losing weight and changing your diet today or you’re going to have another one and be really, really dead for a long, long time. If you have a drinking or drug problem and you come this close to killing yourself or someone else while driving impaired, then you need to get sober now.
But those circumstances are pretty rare and have nothing to do with January 1st. For most of us, it’s a long, slow slide down that slippery slope and it’s going to be a long, slow climb back up. What most people never realize is that you get to decide where the stopping point is on that slope.
When you’re ready, really ready, then you can make those changes in your life. There aren’t any shortcuts, there aren’t any miracles, there aren’t any silver bullets. It’s just you and your support systems. Your friends and family can (and should) help. You can get organized help such as a gym membership, a personal trainer, a music teacher, AA, or you can sign up for a community college course. But you have to do those things because you are ready. No one can do it for you.
First of all, it’s critical that you realize that you’re not (for example) “dieting” or “getting into shape”. YOU ARE CHANGING YOUR LIFE FOR EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. That’s how you succeed. You can’t diet until you hit your goal weight, then go right back to the habits and lifestyle that made you overweight to begin with. (Guess what happens if you do.) You can’t get into shape until you can run that 10K, then go back to sitting on the couch. (Guess what happens if you do.)
Realize that there will be setbacks. Accept them. Don’t beat yourself up over them. Move on.
If you’re trying to lose weight, there will be days when you’ve eaten salads and fish for ten days in a row and you’re really proud of yourself but you would kill for something from In-N-Out. Okay, have that burger and fries. Maybe have that milk shake. (Maybe make it a small rather than a large.) Then, the next day, get back on the wagon.
If you’re training for that marathon, there will be days when you’re just not interested in going out to run that five miles in the rain. So, don’t! But get back out there the next day.
Should the worse case happen and you abandon your program and slip back into your old habits, you’ve got a whole year to wait and wallow in your misery if you’ve bought into the whole “New Year’s resolution” philosophy. If you don’t give a damn about January 1st, you can get back up and climb back on that horse whenever you’re ready.
Another cliche — “It’s not how many times you get knocked down that counts, it’s how many times you get back up.”
Realize that you don’t have to do it on a certain schedule, especially if that schedule was made for someone else or is completely arbitrary. Be flexible, adjust course as necessary while keeping the goal in sight. BE SMART!
You want to run that marathon, but a month into training for a 4:00 pace you’re dying and want to give up? So train for a 5:00 or 6:00 pace. When you accomplish that goal, then you can train next time for a higher goal.
You’re beating yourself up because you just can’t stop yourself from eating unhealthy five or six times a week? Okay, accept that, go with it and see where it takes you. If you were eating unhealthy twenty-one times a week before, five or six times a week is a huge improvement! Get some feedback from your body, develop your new lifestyle of only eating unhealthy five or six times a week, then later on work on getting that down to three or four times a week. Then later down to once or twice.
You can do these things. I say this as someone who ten years ago was over fifty pounds heavier. I took my kids on a 2.9 mile mountain hike that we did as a family (including my nine-year-old sister and mother who had had surgery less than a month before) when I was a teenager. I was so badly out of shape that I thought that I was going to need helicopter paramedics to rescue me from the side of the mountain. Now I’m proud that I’ve run two marathons and I want to run more to improve my times.
So, yeah, I look at my life and I need to lose a few more pounds. I need to get back into running and training for the next marathon. I want to learn that second language and playing guitar. I want to call my mother and vacuum the carpets more regularly. Blah, blah, blah.
But I won’t do any of those things by starting crash programs on this special day, based on unreasonable goals and untenable plans. I will get those things done by working on changing myself incrementally every day. I may start doing that tomorrow, or next month, or whenever I get sick and tired enough of not being the way I want to be. I hope to start sooner rather than later, but I will start when I start.
But New Year’s resolutions are bullshit.