Monday, December 31, 2012

Why We Break Our Resolutions

Part of the reason, I think, that we tend to do poorly on keeping our New Year's Resolutions is that we have so little time to think of good ones. The Yuletide is such a beast of a holiday that by the time we finish singing carols, clean up the wrapping paper, drive/fly/walk/teleport/pogo-stick home, and sleep off Christmas dinner, it's already four days to New Year's. And if you're anything like the rest of us, you probably haven't given the idea of resolutions a single thought until right about now.

 So we jot something down. Some vaguely responsible- and grownup-sounding thing that comes easily to mind: "Exercise more," "Quit smoking," "Drink less," etc. But there's no specifics, no way to measure or determine success. How much exercise is "more"? How many drinks are too much? Are we talking drinks per night? Per week? For the rest of the year? If you don't even know how much you drank last year, how are you supposed to arrive at a smaller figure this year?

If there's anything that National Novel-Writing Month has taught me over the years, it's that you can do a lot more than you think you can, as long as you've got a meaningful deadline and consequences for missing it. A good resolution, like any good goal, is a measurable one. Don't just say that you're going to exercise more, say how often you're going to exercise, and for how long, and to what intensity. What kind of exercise will you be doing? If you miss a day, will you have to go double the next day? Donate to a charity? Spend time doing chores for friends and family? Make it so you've got an actual incentive to keep the resolution. Otherwise, it's a lot easier to just slack off than to keep up the hard work, and since there's no accountability for missing your own resolutions, you can just go tumbling down into that satisfying darkness, the darkness of ease, the darkness of acquiescence, the milk-livered niddering darkness of sweet sweet cowardice..

So don't give up on your resolutions! It's easy to stop walking when you don't know where you're going and don't have a plan for how to get there. Just pull out your map, trace a route, and follow it. And if the road washes out, well, choose another route and keep on truckin'. Just don't stop moving.
You won't get anywhere unless you're going somewhere.