The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men…lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain.Robert Burns (1785)
Those of my Dear Readers who follow Light at Sea may remember an earlier version of this post I published 365 days ago. Why post it again? Because it’s a reminder that New Year’s resolutions are a two-edged sword and should be made, if at all, carefully and realistically. Second, I’ve been working on humility, and reading it again reminds me that I have a strong streak of hypocrisy that evokes this clever saying I heard in an AA meeting recently: “Take my advice; I’m not using it.” To wit, last December 31, although I cautioned against making New Year’s resolutions at all, I still made some, and then failed to keep most of ’em. That a few were torpedoed by forces majeure (a wildfire followed by a breakthrough Delta case) is a lame excuse.
So, here we go again, with cites to some updated studies, one of my own silly stories, and some thoughts on mitigating the frustrations involved in making these insane promises to ourselves (and to others–who don’t care anyway).
TELL YOUR STATISTICS TO SHUT UP.
(Charlie Brown to Schroeder responding to his baseball stats.)
Why would I call a well-intentioned self-help plan like a resolution “insane?” The answer lies in a combination of Professor Einstein’s definition of insanity and some annoying statistics. 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.
And the stats that Charlie Brown would hate? If current trends continue, 66% of adults who make New Year’s resolutions tonight or tomorrow (often nursing dismal hang-overs), will fail to achieve them. I haven’t found stats on how many folks make the same old resolutions year after year. I still penned a few in 2021, despite my resolution last year to stop making them.
MY RESOLUTIONS HAVE NEVER INCITED A PERSONAL REVOLUTION.
In 1996, much to the amusement of some of my former law firm colleagues, I started making handwritten New Year’s resolutions on index cards. 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 index cards by simply copying the first list. The only goal that I was able to accomplish consistently was to complete an endurance bicycling event south of South Lake Tahoe. (I trained for it again in 2021, but it was cancelled on the eve of the ride due to the Tamarack Wildfire. If you want to make your Higher Power laugh, make a plan.)
Most of my other resolution fodder (weight loss, regular meditation, number of attorney hours billed, blah, blah) got crushed under Rose Parade floats or slowly dropped off the radar screen as old habits reasserted themselves.
We usually mean it when we wish folks a Happy New Year; “happy” being the phrase’s key word. We then (pretend to) listen to other people’s tedious list of resolutions, as if their vows will add to everyone’s happiness. Wrong! Well, ok: The goals that the 33-percenters noted above actually achieve may increase their happiness coefficient. But the soon-to-be broken vows that we 66-percenters make as the ball drops fan the fires of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. See why I call this crazy ritual insane?
HERE’S A WILD AND CRAZY THOUGHT!
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, 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?
Punch procrastination in the face by starting a project I’ve been dreading?
Complete (or make some progress on) another task without fretting about perfection?
Reach out to someone I care about?
Smile at and say hi to a stranger?
Eat reasonably sized meals made mostly from whole foods?
Spend a few minutes with my eyes closed (while awake), paying attention to my breathing?
Think of one thing for which I am grateful?
In my case (and for millions of others), gratefully add another day to my sobriety?
Say something true, humble, and nice to myself about myself?
When I got to the end of today, and found I hadn’t answered yes to all of the preceding twelve questions, did I forgive myself by saying 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
And when you wake up ready to say,
“I think I’ll make a snappy new day.” Fred Rogers
Book: The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova
Netflix series: Money Heist
Coming soon to a blog near you:
Device Use Disorder (DUD) (Thoughts on the smartphone/social media addiction debate.)
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