Happy New Year!
We humans celebrate the passing of the old year and beginning of the new. We are granted 365 pages in a brand-new, not-as-yet-besmirched book, to write as we will. (Riiigghhtt). Somehow, we always think this one will be written better than the last. We declare that we won’t make the same mistakes this year, forgetting that even if we don’t make the same mistakes, we’ll just make new ones. This is the year we’re going to Get It Right. I think this comes from our natural penchant to want to be Perfect. And to help us in our efforts to become Perfect, we make New Year’s Resolutions.
I don’t like New Year’s resolutions. I know that makes me a holiday curmudgeon, but I’ve had a lot of years to think about it, and that’s what I’ve come to. I even have reasons.
First, the middle of winter after the biggest hoopla of the year doesn’t seem like a good time to try to change your bad habits. There’s a natural letdown after the holidays, which seem to call for a period of rest and restoration, not an instant jump into a new project. When you’ve just finished something that commanded lots of effort, like a huge project at work or the last performance of a play, you’re spent, exhausted, used up. You need to replenish yourself. Also, Mother Nature shows us that winter is a time of rest and restoration after a season of immense growth and productivity, a getting-ready season for the next flurry of activity.
Second, the word resolution itself sets us up for failure. Something that is resolved is all figured out, finished, done. In the news, when they talk about resolving tensions in the Middle East, they mean an ending of tensions, a solution to the problems.
Example: I resolve to exercise an hour EVERY DAY. A noble and commendable goal. And you start off strong, exercising a whole hour on the first day of January, and the second day, and maybe even the third day. But then something happens; maybe your toilet gets stopped up and you have to spend thirty minutes on that, and then the dog pukes in the floor or a glass falls and breaks, and you can’t leave that sort of thing; that sort of thing must be dealt with right away, as we all know, or it just gets worse and worse, so you do what must be done. Or your son jumps off the bed and smacks his head on the nightstand and blood spurts everywhere, and you have to go to the ER and get stitches. (This, in spite of the fact that you have mentioned 493 times that jumping off the bed is ill-advised). Things happen. They just do.
So you run around frazzled all day doing what must be done, and somehow you do get it all done, and you collapse into your chair that night, and it hits you that you did not do even one tiny minute of “exercise” that day. And it ain’t happening now.
So here it is January fourth and you’re already screwed for the year. You may as well throw in the towel. There’s no way you can complete your goal to exercise every day, because you’ve already missed a day. Now it’s time to berate and revile yourself. Can’t keep a simple resolution. What a Loser. Oh, well, maybe next year. Gotta wait 361 days to start over.
I think that’s why Resolutions rarely succeed at bringing about real change. No one – at least no one native to this planet – is going to do any new behavior consistently for 365 consecutive days, though they might really want to. The rigidity of a resolution makes it almost impossible to succeed at it.
But I do think it’s imperative that we take stock of our lives, and January 1 is the most common time to do so. It’s a new beginning, a milestone, and a chance to start fresh. But we need something less rigid than a Resolution, something gentle that won’t slap us down when we fall, which we will.
And the truth is that if something is a good idea on January 1, it’s a good idea on January 19 and March 31 and August 7 and November 13, and all the other days of the year. If it’s a good idea one day, it’s a good idea the next day. We need something that encourages us, when we fall, to get up and try again.
That’s why I now Set Intentions instead of Making Resolutions. Intentions work better for me.
I intend to exercise sixty minutes a day. Do you hear how different that sounds?
If you intend to do something, but circumstances keep you from doing that, you say, “Well, darn; I didn’t get to do that. I’ll try again tomorrow.” Or, “I only did thirty minutes of exercise today. Maybe I’ll make sixty tomorrow.”
Doesn’t that have a whole different feel? Gentler? More forgiving? More nurturing? More likely to encourage you to actually exercise the next day? Less likely to berate and revile yourself? It feels that way to me.
So I’ve given up resolutions for Intentions. And here are some of my 2017 Intentions:
I intend to publish this blog every Wednesday and Sunday in 2017.
I intend to improve my physical health by exercising an hour every day. (Bet you saw that one coming, didn’t you?) But I also intend to work my way up to an hour by starting with maybe twenty minutes a day and increasing it as I get stronger and tougher.
I intend to finish my novel and find it a publisher. It’s time. That story has been knocking around in my brain for twenty years. Poor thing deserves to see the light of day.
I intend to learn to like Brussels sprouts. And kale. Well, maybe kale. But for sure on the Brussels Sprouts.
I intend to grab every minute of life and enjoy it and savor it and learn from it. I intend to spend time with the people I love, breathe deeply of mountain air, and notice when things grow.
I intend to give up drinking diet cola. That stuff is, at the least, garbage, and at the worst, poison. Tastes good, though.
I intend to write something every single day.
But if Life intervenes and I miss a day, I’ll be back the next day, trying again. I won’t give up or throw in the towel or wait till 2018. Because I know that if it’s a good idea one day, it’s still a good idea the next day.