By Matt Gordon
Gone are the days of quietly breaking New Year’s resolutions. When Abraham Lincoln invented the internet, it began as merely a place to buy and sell crops and get catfished, but now it is the broadcast hub of all delusions. Want to get skinny? Post it online while still masticating your “final” chocolate bar (or second to final, or first in a long series of chocolate farewells), and, in two months, when like 92 percent of resolutions have limped tiredly off course, you get to relive your shame with every flabby pic you post online. No, you used quietly decide to save money and no one saw the exorbitant expenses for Rail City, the room in your basement dedicated to hosting your secret miniature train set and corresponding village. But now everyone knows your holy intention to be responsible and you are forced to announce your hypocrisy like a new eighty dollar miniature train whistle that sounds almost identical to the real thing—you however are left as anything but the real thing.
Resolutions seldom work. Not saying you shouldn’t have them. Not saying it isn’t fun. But the simple truth is that by February you are starting to fudge on your goal not to eat chocolate, and by March you are like that kid in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who gets gobbled up by a chocolate river.
So here are some ways to perhaps increase your resolution resolve this year.
- Make your resolution not to create any resolutions. I tried this last year and it was one of the first successful resolutions I’ve ever kept. Sure I gained weight, woke up later than I wanted, fell a few dozen books short of my reading goal, and went bankrupt in developing Rail City, but I did all of this knowing that I am a person of great resolve: a great, fat, poor success of a man.
- Make your resolutions tiny. Most of us start with something grandiose like losing a hundred pounds or becoming fluent in Spanish. No me gusta, okay? It won’t work. After month three when you’ve only lost seven pounds and you ordered a cheese plate in the bibliotheca, you’ll get down on yourself and quit to avoid the losing. This is why we prefer games or sports that we are good at and avoid ones that are a struggle. We like to win and we hate feeling shame. But the truth is, losing seven pounds is great. And it is entirely necessary to ever lose the hundred pounds of your dream. And you never know when you need a plate of cheese to go with a good book, so there’s that.
My wife scoffs at my resolution for this year. It is to do one healthy thing a day. The other day, after playing vigorously with my tiny sons, I told her I was good for the day resolution-wise. She said, “But that is something you would have done anyway!” Exactly. And that is why it is easy to keep. Today I chose water to start my day. Easy. And because of the ease, I did it! And I’ll do something tomorrow and the next day and the next. By the end of the year, I’ll have 365 instances of health in my life meaning, simply, I’ll be healthier in both body and mind.
3. Make it secret. You don’t really have to make it a secret, okay. But what I mean is that if you were to disallow yourself from posting it online would you still want to do it? Like do I want to learn French or do I want a bunch of pseudo friends and strangers to think I’m smart for wanting to learn French? Have you ever listened to French? It sounds all wobbly-jawed and jarbled; my own mouth hurts just thinking of it. I’ll have to soothe it with some chocolate. I’m thinking French is difficult. Difficult enough that the dopamine drop of some pseudo friends and strangers won’t be enough to carry the rock up the hill for you. Plus, the digital people in your life don’t care about you and your pursuits enough to give you the affirmation and encouragement you need for something that seems pretty difficult. C’est la vie and all that. So make sure your resolution is really a thing you are resolved to do—it has to be something you want or your spouse wants or something your doctor demands. Not just something to give you, like, four seconds of misguided feels. At least not if you are going to still be scaling those Alps in, say, February.
4. Make it short-term. Of course, New Year’s Resolutions are for the year. Sensible. But you can still chunk things out for management and motivation purposes. Say I want to read fifty books. Might be wiser to read four a month. Or shoot for 12-15 per season. When you reach the end of the season, you celebrate what you’ve done, and even if you’ve fallen short in springtime, there is time to get back on the wagon in the summer—okay, I can make up three or four in the summer with some page-turning beach reads and sneak in some novellas in the fall. Again, let’s remember that the goal of reading X number of books is sort of stupid. I mean, it is noble and makes a target which is fine. But the goal of reading X number of books is really to read books. Reading is the point! So I shouldn’t let some target undermine the process, especially when the process is the true goal. Losing a hundred pounds is great, but it is the behavioral dedication to living healthy day in and day out that will, at some point, deliver me to my optimal body weight. By shifting our focus, too, on why we are resolved to do anything it will allow us to avoid shortcuts that don’t serve our longer-term desires. So I won’t put down War and Peace because it is slowing me down and read my kid’s collection of Goosebumps books instead, all to reach some worthless number. Or I won’t just spend a ton on a quick-fix weight loss surgery or drug and skip out on learning the dedication to exercise and meal-planning necessary to keep the gains—or I guess to keep the losses in this case.
It is a new year, and we’ll all race off to make this the year where we get stronger, wiser, thinner . . . better. And then we will put it off to next year because that is what we do. But perhaps the most important part of any resolution is developing a truer sense of identity—one not rooted in Fit Bit results or some number in the bank. No resolution actually changes my cosmic standing of being valued and loved. I am secure in the dignity bestowed on me—I am enough. And when I truly believe that I am enough, it changes the stakes on my resolutions and actually allows my betterment. I no longer have to be better to prove something to someone or to better deserve love. I get to strive for better in my life as a great gift—and like the best gifts, it is optional. Also, like the best gifts, one would be mad to deny it.
So I press on doing one healthy thing a day, knowing that is enough. And I am too.
Now back to Rail City. Happy New Year.