A new calendar year has launched itself into orbit. I contemplate the last twelve months and prepare to engage in a final, somewhat unsettling seasonal activity: the evaluation of the New Year’s resolutions.
While “I don’t make any” has long been my mantra, the reality is I do mull over a growing list of strategies to help repair the previous year’s regrettable performance. Like summer’s thirsty crops, my annual attempts to reinvent me into my ideal self have yielded inadequate results. It’s no wonder then that I must renew my vows to self and tackle the same list as before. It’s the Kleenex in my dark load, the one forgotten tissue that landed in the wash and spun itself to bits.
The most challenging resolutions remain confidential. I reserve the right to fail without scrutiny; to resume comfortable patterns and avoid tiresome eyebrow raising from squinty-eyed friends and relations who delight in logging indiscretions. And, I reserve the right to revise my list anytime.
To recall my personal dogmas I adopt a variety of means. Among them, notepads of all shapes and sizes, and apps that organize and mobilize, highlight, color-code and alarm. To supplement these, bold handwritten notes-to-self in black permanent marker are placed strategically around the house and office. Short and to the point, these serve to instruct and motivate. One taped to my computer says, “Nothing in this room is someone else’s problem.” This daily affirmation is sure to produce imminent visible results.
Further, in magnanimous kindness and consideration, many of my strategies are unconditionally extended to my spouse who categorically rejects them.
Most of my commandments live in the kitchen, the hot spot of failed resolutions. There, endless analyses of optimal dietary practices have given rise to new, innovative formulas. Such as, the infallible Rules of “No (fill in the blank)” must be balanced with logical, rationed healthy treats.
Exhibit A: Certain foods are approved crossovers. Pumpkin pie (vegan or regular) with a dollop of ice cream (vegan or regular), provide a veg portion and protein. Among other sanctioned superfoods, these delights may reside in the healthy breakfast category.
Alas such floundering arguments serve to collapse even the best intentions. A piece (or more) of “healthy pie” — pumpkin, berry, peach, pecan — topples the dietary Rules of No (carbs-fat-sugar) in any measure exceeding a bite or sliver. In hangry discontent, Exhibit A is abandoned.
Exhibit B: At 9 p.m. any day, as TV ads drizzle fudge over everything, I recall documented research that chocolate is a health food, and nuts, a complete protein. A late-night indulgence from a boxed selection — choosing only ones with nutty centers — is immediately justified, loaded with antioxidants, Omega-3s and endorphins.
Ten minutes into this gratifying act the resolution plummets into the abyss, crashing down that syrupy slope where portion control is terminated.
Armed with notable exceptions to dietary rules, my resolutions quickly morph into the successful “one day at a time” motif. The next morning I’ll be back on the wagon. Allegedly.
By end of year my nutritional strategies have garnered a solid F. On January 1 commandments are reinstated with new warnings in biblical proportions, baritone, reverb, thunder and lightning. I’ve fallen; but I get up.
The kitchen isn’t the only place where resolutions struggle. Every room, at home, at work, cries out a tedious rhyme: “When will you finish this task?” “When will you clear this space so you can see the surface?” while targeted promotions animate on my tablet offering storage solutions, critical upgrades, practical gadgets I should need and want to buy and find a place for in my house.
And I carry on, picking at the Kleenex in my wash cycle, the laundry lint of life.
As Father Time ticks past last year, I recall the least abundant of all commodities. I owe the discipline of time management to my parents. When homework was finished, urgent categories preempted play — cleaning my room, practicing piano, washing dishes. It would seem prudent then to pluck oneself from a number of wasteful acts and apply one’s limited time to “worthier” endeavors. Thus, when I sit with a cup of tea next to a purring cat, or even contemplate a healthy walk, this noble directive prompts my internal autopilot to ricochet. The very activities designed to refresh and rejuvenate seem undeserved as I ponder whether to instead tackle yet another thing from the very important lists growing exponentially, daily.
It’s unsettling that the irreproachable resolve to not waste the God-given — time, money, life — presents in a shiny package of self-denial, overachievement and exhaustion, adorned with a seductive bow and arrow. I run through Bible promises; resilience and long-term change seem absolutely attainable. He is able, through His power within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we ask or think.1 For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.2 I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.3
Further, social science supports identifying personal resolutions is a worthwhile endeavor. People who make them are ten times more likely to achieve their goals than those who don’t.4
The multitude of resolutions, then, may benefit from a time-out, a forgetting of what is behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,5 a deep, cleansing breath that reshapes, refocuses and reverses self-fulfilling prophecies that lurk under the dome of defeat.
Whether written, spoken or private, our inventory of intentions is not only comprised of checklists, but of permanent objectives — not the kind you cross off — implemented systematically, in a round-the-clock, multi-tasked, smooth operation within the fragile framework of God, family, friends, schedules, interruptions, expectations, religion, finance, media, work, service, crisis, recreation, exercise, sleep, education, technology, random acts of kindness, charity and gratitude.
The overwhelming litter of priorities may profit from these guiding principles:
1. There are more noble goals than one can achieve in a lifetime; honor God, spark joy, serve your world.
2. Stop saying Yes when you need to say No; care for self to enable you to care for others.6
3. Instant gratification and excess stand at the door of the abyss.
4. Failure is a teaching tool; one debacle need not lead to another.
5. Prioritize and begin — again and again.
6. Remind, restate and own resolutions, it is a courageous act.
7. When overcome by guilt and defeat, return to step 1.
Notes & References:
1. Ephesians 3:20, paraphrased
2. Isaiah 41:13, NIV
3. Isaiah 43:19b, NIV
4. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioral Addiction, Nottingham Trent University. https://www.iflscience.com/brain/psychology-new-year-s-resolutions/
5. Philippians 3:13b, paraphrased
6. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31, NIV
Ani Holdsworth is a freelance graphic designer in Lincoln, Nebraska. A version of this article appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star.
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.