If I had a nickel for every New Year’s resolution I haven’t fulfilled, I could buy myself a cashmere sweater. The purchase would be helpful. One year I resolved to learn how to knit, and I still don’t even own a pair of knitting needles.
I wrestle so much with resolution follow-through that I sometimes wonder if it is even a healthy exercise to make the resolution in the first place. On one hand, it’s motivating and even exciting to think about the self-improvements scheduled to cement in the coming months. On the other hand, it’s a real bummer when the goal self-destructs within days.
A handful of Christmases ago, my family began the tradition of making predictions. We sit around the table and crystal-ball each other. Our psychic energies focus on questions such as who will get a new car, who will move, who will get promoted, and what kind of animal my husband will buy next.
There is something delightfully passive about the entire enterprise. The predictions are made for you; your participation extends only to having a name and personality to which a guess can be attached. If a prediction isn’t proven correct by the following Christmas, it’s no one’s fault but the person’s who made it. You can’t be blamed for not writing more when it was your sister’s flawed perception that prompted the “you will write more” edict. She is also the one who once helped you buy a pair of skinny jeans. She cannot be trusted in a variety of contexts.
A resolution is a different story. You make it, you own it. A resolution begins with the pronoun “I,” is followed by an action verb, and ends with the pronouncement that seals your fate. You control the destiny of the pronouncement, its glory or failure residing entirely within your alarm clock or bank account or prime-time television planning.
When I wake up in the morning, any morning whatsoever, I have an informal set of goals for the day. By breakfast, I’ve dropped the ball on several of them. If I cannot make it a few hours without torpedoing some basic aspirations, like blow-drying my hair before work and making coffee at home, who do I think I am with my New Year’s resolutions to do things requiring new skills and new habits?
An Oprah network personality would tell me that I just need to make my resolutions “smaller.” But if I resolve to always know where the scissors are, how am I going to feel about myself if one March day the scissors are missing? I’m the type of person who can’t even keep a consistent handle on where a hard-to-miss household accessory is kept? Would that mean I’d have to voluntarily revoke my driver’s license and put my children in extended day care?
My mother would tell me that I am being too hard on myself. I hesitate at that evaluation. She is the woman who dropped me off at a middle school dance wearing paisley-print MC Hammer pants and a matching vest. She cannot be trusted in a variety of contexts.
In the cost-benefit analysis, what comes out ahead? The call to action of a New Year’s resolution, with the promise of euphoric triumph if fulfilled? Or the risk that your fresh start will end in familiar derailment, with the promise of confirmed disappointment? Is it better to have resolved, or never to have resolved at all?
Call me “The Bachelorette,” but I’m not giving up on love. And I love the idea of thinking this might be the year when I run that marathon, and cook dinner three nights a week, and finally finish that darned needlepoint pillow I began years ago. Maybe this time next year, I’ll be finishing up this column so I can turn to another writing assignment, dressed in skinny jeans and sporting a stylish hairdo.
I’m saying go for it, to myself and to you. Let’s meet back here next year and trade notes. Onward, friends.