The first day of 2013 dawned beautiful, sunny and cold. Heading downstairs, I ran into a neighbour dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, carrying a thick paperback novel. “That’s strange,” I thought. “It’s a bit chilly to sit outside and read.”
We made small talk and, as he stepped out of the elevator waving his book, he chirped, “First day of the year. Headed to the gym. Took me all morning to get down here, but I’m going!”
Ahh, New Year’s Resolutions. The kind of optimistic insanity that makes a person saunter down to the gym in their street clothes. With a book in hand.
I’ve created my own list of resolutions every year since I was a pre-teen, filling pages of my journal with detailed assessments of the past year and lists of goals for the coming months. I’ve even made charts (dork alert).
But now, as January rolls around, I view goal setting in a different light. Reading the resolutions of friends and acquaintances on Facebook, blogs and Twitter, I can see that most are destined to fail the moment they are created.
We’re prone to negative resolutions like:
Lose 10 pounds
Eat less junk food
Quit lousy job
Or overblown, unrealistic resolutions like:
Go to Bikram Yoga three times a week (when we’ve been going zero days a week)
Write 3,000 words per day (when we’ve only been writing sporadically)
Give up coffee cold turkey (when we’ve been downing lattes like water)
These are lousy goals.
The first week we miss a session of yoga, the whole plan falls apart and we mutter to ourselves, between bites of salty, guilt flavored potato chips:
New Year’s resolutions are built upon this strange notion that, come January 1st, we will suddenly morph into perfect, unwavering health nuts who love to exercise and drink algae shakes. It’s a very convenient all or nothing mentality, which is why New Years Resolutions could realistically be called Month of January Resolutions.
The problem is that we are piling a bunch of new shoulds onto our already should-filled lives.
We have work shoulds and family shoulds, social shoulds and health shoulds. Shows we should watch, books we should read, diets we should try, languages we should learn, mindsets we should master, activities we should join, activities our kids should join…
We are drowning in shoulds.
Here’s an idea: rather than add dozens of new things to your list, why not take something off?
Why not reduce the shoulds and focus on one thing you really, truly want?
If you think your closet’s a mess right before a big purge, imagine what your brain looks like after a year of collecting new ideas. We mentally bookmark dozens of things every day. That amounts to thousands of shoulds over the course of a year.
By creating a list of a bajillion different things we want to do, we trick ourselves into feeling productive. The truth is, we’re not being productive at all. We pile on an unrealistic amount of resolutions so we don’t feel bad when we inevitably fail: who really expected us to write a novel, learn Spanish, travel the world, eat a vegan diet, sculpt Adonis abs and volunteer for a weekly soup kitchen in 2012?
Well shit, at least we tried.
Take a look at your own list. Maybe you really do want to learn Spanish, but some of the other shoulds–those 105 Pinterest Crafts you’ve been meaning to get around to–are causing you to stall.
Maybe you feel like you should read Hemingway but secretly you want to read Twilight. Maybe the sad result is you aren’t reading anything at all.
So, here’s a resolution:
Throw out all of the stuff that you don’t really want to do. Dump it. Free up that valuable mental real estate.
Now take that treacherous little word should out of the equation and pick one thing you really want to do. Not the number of pounds you’ve been meaning to lose or the Nazi diet regimen you’ve been eyeing. Choose something positive and manageable that has the potential to make you a happier person.
A list of things you’ll never get around to is doing nothing for you. Tear it up. Let it go.
Pick just one good thing. Begin.
How do you feel about New Year’s Resolutions? Do you make them? Break them? What do you hope to achieve in 2013?