“And when you wake up ready to say,
‘I think I’ll make a snappy new day.’” Fred Rogers
It’s time to wish virtually everyone (including strangers on the street) a hearty “Happy New Year!” After all, we’re generally social creatures, and when folks to whom we extend that hope-filled greeting reciprocate, we get the warm and fuzzy feeling of inclusion. We now have a common purpose, at least before the fuzzy buzz of the New Year goes flat like the last few ounces of bubbly.
But the buzz hasn’t been killed, Friends. It has found new life, resuscitated by the New Year’s resolutions that 40 percent of American adults have now jotted down with shaky hands on crumpled napkins decorated with balloons. These goals, resolutions, promises, vows, call ‘em what you like, are some variation of the usual suspects in the resolution lineup.
For most of us, though, these threadbare self-improvement schemes have become all too familiar because they all too often result in varying degrees of failure.
THE DISMAL STATS
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men…lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain. Robert Burns (1785)
If you’re not sick of the silly games that dominated the Holiday Season, here are a few resolution trivia questions and statistical answers:
- How many folks abandoned most of their resolutions by January 7? (25%)
- How many will still be on track by January 31? (Only a third.)
- What percentage of well-intentioned people made resolutions despite expecting that they will quit by the end of February? (43%)
- How many kept their resolutions through the end of the year? (9%)
I DOUBT EINSTEIN MADE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS.
These statistics are so bleak that the only sane conclusion is that making resolutions is insane. Professor Einstein would probably agree: On a break from thinking about falling elevators and people on passing trains, he came up with a definition of insanity that is at least as famous (and easier for us non-STEM’ers to understand) as his theories of relativity:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
(I resisted the temptation to use the silly picture of him with his tongue sticking out.)
THE ELEGANT SOLUTION
The Professor’s elegant definition of failure suggests an equally graceful solution to the New Year’s Resolution enigma:
Let’s not make any New Year’s resolutions. Not one. Instead, subtract 8,736 hours from the coming year’s total of 8,760. That leaves 24 hours (aka, “today”). Then, at the end of each “today,” review these simple, present-focused questions that I hope you will tape to the fridge right after you read this post:
Today did I…
- Start with a gratitude?
- Get 20-25 minutes of moderate exercise?
- Do something in the service of another person?
- Spend more time folded into the present?
- Break out of the inertia of procrastination by starting a project I’ve been dreading?
- Complete (or make some appreciable progress on) another task without fretting about perfection?
- Reach out to someone I care about?
- Spend some minutes with my eyes closed (while awake), paying some attention to my breathing.
- Say something nice and true to myself about myself?
- When I got to the end of today, and found I hadn’t answered yes to all of the preceding questions, did I give myself a break by saying this New Zealand prayer of closure?
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.
Resolutions spring from optimism about the future. We often look for happiness there, predicting hopefully, “I will be happy when ____.” But no matter what cool event or accomplishment we put in the blank, we are no more than gamblers in an uncertain game. What is certain, however, is that “when” is no more and no less than right now. Now is what we get each day, and it’s a profound blessing. So, let’s look at our daily “did I…” list, take a shot at doing some of the things on it each day, and stay focused on Ferris Bueller’s timeless advice:
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Book: The Song of the Cell by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Series: Lupin, starring Omar Sy
The Public Life of Bees (Meditations on Mindfulness)