With January coming to a close and Times Square’s New Year’s Eve confetti all but lying in a pile of last year’s trash somewhere in North Carolina, I’m compelled to think about New Year’s resolutions. The all too comforting and overly shamed idea that a new year means we can embrace new possibilities. Out with the old and in with the new. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it?
It has become a cultural stigma to start making changes come January 1st. A new year promises new beginnings, and with questions about resolutions coming at us as lazily as inquiries about the weather as soon as the New Year’s hangover wears off, it’s almost impossible not to participate. But the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they almost always revolve around results. And you’re probably thinking, well of course they do, you have to state a goal in order to make it a reality, otherwise what’s the point. So I’ll rewind a little and rephrase.
The problem with New Year’s resolutions is the race to the results.
Allow me to explain.
I spend more time than I care to admit thinking things like I want to lose 10 pounds or I wish I were a paid writer. These phrases will be uttered enough times within a certain time period that my motivation will hit full capacity and I will immediately plan and plot on how I’m going to get there. This boiling point almost always comes when New Year’s Eve approaches and the whole world decides it’s time to make a change for the better. Weight loss ads start hitting hard and I start fantasizing.
I’ll come up with a meal plan, workout regimen, and a writing schedule in a day, putting to good use my organizational skills and Erin Condren planner. This planning always takes up more time in the day than I intend, with the use of colorful pens and washi tape, and the schedule always “starts tomorrow.” I always swear I’ll stick to it, allowing for no flexibility and once I check off a few days on my calendar I get restless.
Now maybe I’m alone in this, but I feel like we all to some degree torture ourselves with how to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as we possibly can. The crash diets, insanely strict workout schedules, and promising to write for an hour everyday – all of it overwhelming. When the changing of behaviors we took so long mastering doesn’t yield the immediate change we’re looking for, it’s discouraging. All we really want to know is when are we going to see the results?
So rarely do we just focus on what we need to do each day and the new habits we need to slowly build in order to eventually get where we want to go. I know that every decision I make, from what time to go to bed and what time to wake up, to what to eat for breakfast and whether I should turn on another episode of Sex and the City before getting down to my daily tasks, all matter to the results.
But changing my behavior overnight is hard.
When we are so focused on the results, and not the daily habits that will yield those results, it’s no wonder we lose focus so quickly. We let tiny slips and negativity completely derail us, sometimes plunging us right back to where we were.
It’s almost comical the amount of annoying social media posts I read at the beginning of the year. People ranting about long waits for cardio equipment at the gym, and wishing everyone who stepped into the new year with a hope of bettering themselves would just give up already. It’s a really sad thing that we live in a world where people are actively hoping others fail for the simplicity of their own comfort, their own schedule, and their selfish entitlement.
I’ve avoided resolutions the last few years for fear of failure, saying instead that I would just make broader statements, live by new mantras, and deciding that I would slowly incorporate new and productive habits. Last year, I swore I’d wear less make up and spend less time second-guessing myself. Turns out the less make up part was easy, second-guessing my decision not to wear make up when I caught a glimpse of myself in the windows of the subway door was a little harder.
This year I decided I would focus simply on creating better habits. Getting up earlier, going to bed earlier, start an at home yoga practice and more importantly start writing again. The most important thing I told myself was not to come up with a rigid weekly schedule, instead just focusing on a day at a time and planning my days one or two out at most. Naturally I assumed this would leave less room for failure.
I find myself struggling though, wrestling with impatience and results, and mostly my impatience about the results. If I’ve been practicing yoga everyday for two weeks straight, shouldn’t I be feeling the benefits already? If I’ve been writing consistently everyday, why don’t I have some finished work of art I’m ready to share? More importantly, what do I do when I don’t feel like the results are coming and I want to give up?
We thrive on a stigma that New Year’s resolutions just don’t work.
We listen intently while our friends, family members, or complete strangers tell us about their new diet, workout routine, savings plan or (my least favorite as a bartender) Dry January, and then we wait for them to fail. We wait for them to fail so that we can feel better when we don’t succeed. Or even worse, we wait for them to fail so that we can sit on our high horse when we’re successful, knowing that we accomplished something others couldn’t. There are always exceptions to this, but I feel most New Year’s Resolutions are met with a lot of roadblocks, not all of which we put there ourselves.
It leaves me wondering why we aren’t building people up for their resolutions. Shouldn’t we embrace the idea that people want to be better? With all the terrible things that are happening all over the world that we can’t control, this should be something we grab on to and hold for dear life. The social media punch lines that follow the mantra of new year, new me are almost infuriating. The idea that people can’t change encompasses so much that’s wrong with our world, because it’s absolutely not true. We can change; people do it all the time.
Right this second, somewhere in the world, there is someone changing.
We are now at that time of the year that it’s almost socially acceptable to start loosening the ropes on all our New Year’s goals. Settling back into old habits, and practically rewarding ourselves for all the days we’ve been sitting, staying, and rolling over. It’s almost been a month; we’re ready for our treat now. We like rewards, and for resolutions those rewards are the results. Not that that’s a bad thing, but just like dogs we need to be weaned off the treats while still being able to perform our tricks.
I have definitely been guilty of this the last week or so. I’ve been spending a little too much energy on the results and wanting to throw out the process all together. Feeling like I’ve been completely gypped on my treat. I want to see the benefits, I want to feel the fruits of my labor. I want results, damn it. Where are they? I’m going to need an ETA.
So in my darkest moments of wanting to give up my new daily routines, and because I suspect if you’ve made it this far down in my rant you have too, I want to stop and tell us both that we don’t have to. Sure we’ve slipped. If I’m being honest I’ll tell you I’ve missed over a week of my at home yoga practice and re-watched way too many episodes of Younger instead of sticking to my writing goals.
But guess what?
I have done more at home yoga this year than I did last year, and I have written many pages I’m proud of, and I have even magically stuck to the new Vegan diet I committed to this year. So maybe by some people’s standards (including my own on a bad day), I’ve failed or at least taken a pretty hard fall. But if I search for that endangered species that is the benefit of the doubt, I can find a lot of ways that I’ve succeeded. And I’m sure if you re-evaluate the last 30 days, you’ll find out that your New Years resolutions are still hanging on, not by a thread, but by your own will power.