New Year’s Irresolutions?
Struggling with your New Year’s resolutions? The key is to stop dreaming and start doing.
By Mary Beth Crain
As I write this, 2008 is already 15 days old and I have yet to tackle even one of my New Year’s resolutions.
This is always what happens. On New Year’s Day I feel inspired—either that or desperate—to begin “anew.” It’s my chance, once again, to start everything I’ve been meaning to start, and finish everything I’ve been meaning to finish. This year things will really be different. I am finally going to start that workout program at the gym at which I’ve been paying a monthly membership since last New Year’s Day, and into which I have yet to stick my head. I am finally going to lose that 50 pounds—although with the menu I have planned for my holiday open house in five days, which will probably assure the consumption of at least 10,000 calories per person, we’re not exactly off to a good start. I’m finally going to pay off those credit cards once and for all. I’m finally going to organize my office, unpack all those boxes in the basement, clean out the garage, paint the living room, learn how to garden. And, oh yes, I’m finally going to finish my novel.
Do I start on Day One, January 1, to reform? Of course not. Why rush? There’s plenty of time—a whole year. Ignoring the fact that the days are speeding by faster and faster as I get older and older, and that I no sooner turn around than it’s New Year’s Day all over again, I give myself the luxury of planning and dreaming, about what it’s going to be like when all my resolutions have been accomplished.
The dreaming is the big thing. I’ve decided that the reason most people never stick to their New Year’s resolutions is that it’s lots more fun to fantasize about them than it is to actually enact them. It gives you something to look forward to. And forward to, and forward to. “Someday” is such a romantic notion. “Someday Over the Rainbow.” “Someday My Prince Will Come.” The only problem is that Someday quickly becomes Yesterday.
I’m reminded of a great little cartoon I saw years ago. There was this girl sitting on a rock, staring dreamily up at the clouds and saying, “Someday my prince will come.” A hot guy dressed in princely attire rides up to her on a white horse. “Hello,” he says.
“And he’ll be handsome and kind and brilliant…” she goes on, staring up at the sky, totally unaware of his presence.
“Excuse me,” the hot guy says. “I’m your prince.”
“And he’ll have a great sense of humor and he’ll love the same things I do…”
“Uh, miss?” The prince tries again. “I’m your prince and I’m HERE!”
“And he’ll be the perfect husband and father and we’ll live happily ever after…”
At which point the prince shakes his head in despair and rides off. The final frame is the girl, all alone again, still staring up at the clouds and sighing, “Yes, someday my prince will come. I just wonder when…”
It’s sort of like that with New Year’s resolutions. Someday I’ll get around to them. Someday I’ll miraculously wake up with the energy and enthusiasm and determination to jump out of bed and start knocking them off. I’m just not sure exactly when that someday will be. But like the girl in the cartoon, I have every confidence that it will show up if I wait long enough.
Which, in case you didn’t know is the clinical definition of insanity: committing the same futile action over and over again, in the belief that one of these days it will finally work. Which means that New Year’s resolutions are not just the big joke of the human race, the perfect example of our amusing foibles. No, New Year’s resolutions could very well be a form of certified madness.
And apparently we’ve been insane since at least 153 B.C. The tradition of the New Year's Resolutions, I discovered on the Net, has been traced to that year. Remember Janus, the mythical early Roman king whose symbolic mask was the two faces? Well, he was placed at the head of the calendar where, with his two faces, he could simultaneously look back on past events and forward to the future. He thus became the symbol for resolutions and a change in luck. “Many Romans,” report one site, “looked for forgiveness from their enemies and also exchanged gifts before the beginning of each year.”
The trick, of course, is to do something to break the pattern of hopeful inertia that seems to be the lot of the majority of humans, i.e.: substitute doing for dreaming. Just start taking an action, no matter how small, in the right direction. Of course, this isn’t exactly news, nor is it rocket science. There are a million articles and books that will give you the recipe for change, which is best achieved in small increments and all boils down to A) setting achievable goals and B) taking little daily actions in their direction.
It sounds so simple, and theoretically it is. So what holds us back from doing it? Don’t ask me, except that darn dreaming. Dreams feel good. Action can be scary. Maybe whatever I do won’t work. Maybe I won’t be successful. Then I’ll really get discouraged, and those resolutions will never get done. At least if I dream about them, they might get done. Someday.
But I think I’ve come up with the answer. You know that wonderful product, Resolve? The stuff that cleans up the worst nightmare messes? Well, let’s just spray ourselves instead of our carpets with it and see what happens. It just might turn Someday into Today!
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Senior editor Mary Beth Crain's last essay for SoMA was My Taxicab Confession.
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