The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men…lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain.Robert Burns (1785)
Before the confetti settles onto the shards of 2020, I want to talk about New Year’s resolutions. As usual, look for some statistics, a personal story about your intrepid, sometimes hypocritical blogger, and some thoughts on solving the frustrating conundrums that these insane promises we make to ourselves (and boldly proclaim to others) create. How dare I label a well-intentioned self-help plan “insane?” The answer lies in a combination of Professor Einstein’s definition of insanity and some annoying statistics.
LUCY, TELL YOUR STATISTICS TO SHUT UP.
On a break from thinking about falling elevators, the wild-haired genius came up with a definition of insanity that is easier to understand and at least as famous as his theories of relativity:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Of the 50% of U.S. adults who will make New Year’s resolutions tonight or tomorrow (often nursing dismal hang-overs), only 10% are predicted to actually keep them. I haven’t found stats on how many folks make the same old resolutions year after year. I sure do.
MY RESOLUTIONS NEVER FOMENTED A PERSONAL REVOLUTION.
In the first blog post of my life, I admitted that, while I am pretty good at talking the talk about self-care strategies, I don’t always walk the walk. To wit: I started making (handwritten) New Year’s resolutions in 1996. Ever the organized lawyer, I kept them in a file.
On December 31 of each successive year, I pulled out the file and dug back through the slowly accreting sedimentary layers of the past years’ personal promises. I could have conserved ink and paper by simply copying the first list. The only goal that I accomplished consistently was completing an endurance bicycling event south of South Lake Tahoe. Many of the others had been crushed under the wheels of the Rose Parade floats. The hangers-on had fallen out of the open tailgate of my life’s pick-up by the end of Q1.
OH, THE IRONY!
We usually mean it when we wish folks a Happy New Year; “happy” being the phrase’s operative word. We then ask for a list of their resolutions, confidently enabling the silly idea that these vows will add to everyone’s happiness. Wrong! Well, ok: The goals that the ten-percenters actually achieve may increase their happiness coefficient. But the soon-to-be broken promises we ninety-percenters insanely make year upon year as the ball drops fan the fires of guilt, shame, anger, and self-loathing. Hence, my point that making end-of-year resolutions for the coming annum fits Einstein’s definition with elegant precision.
A MODEST PROPOSAL
Don’t make a single New Year’s resolution. Not one. Instead, subtract 8,736 hours from the coming year’s total of 8,760. That leaves you with 24 hours (aka, “today”). At the end of each today, mindfully ask yourself some simple questions, such as:
Today did I…
Get 25 minutes of moderate exercise?
Do something in the service of another person?
Spend more time folded into the present?
Complete (or make some progress on) a project without fretting about perfection?
Reach out to someone I care about?
Spend a few minutes with my eyes closed (while awake), paying occasional attention to my breathing?
Think of one thing for which I am grateful?
Say something true, humble, and nice to myself about myself?
When I got to the end of today without having answered yes to all of the preceding eight questions, did I remember to say this soothing New Zealand bedtime prayer?
It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done. What has not been done has not been done. Let it be. The night is for stillness and rest.
If we do a decent job of taking care of today, who knows what we might have accomplished the next time we hear the opening bars of Auld Lang Syne? In the meantime, may you live the next twenty-four hours with a lighter heart and a more focused mind.
SOME RELATED STUFF
Quotes of the day:
Merry New Year!
Eddie Murphy in Trading Places
Today, may I find the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; The courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
Reinhold Niebuhr (with a few subtle changes)
And when you wake up ready to say
“I think I’ll make a snappy new day,”
Book: Tribe, by Sebastian Junger.
Movie: Harvey, starring James Stewart.
(Still) coming soon to a blog near you:
Fear of Failure is an Impostor.