Resolutions: Are They Worth It?

(Originally Posted on Thirties Questions in January’15)

It’s that time of year again. New Year’s resolutions are being scratched on napkins and notepads everywhere. Regular gym goers are about to get really pissed as the resolution makers start flocking into fitness centers. People are smoking as many cigarettes as they can, because come January 1 they’re giving it up for good. Restaurants and retail stores are expecting things to slow down as people are recovering from a busy holiday season, and many people declare that they are going to get wiser about their spending in 2015. People are finding the perfect NYE party to go to, because after one last binge they are going to reduce their alcohol consumption.

Then, of course there are those who rebel against the New Year’s resolution. People who reject the idea that the new year has to be the designated time for self improvement. Against the grain type people breaking from the heard. Or just people afraid of failure. Unmotivated people without the self reflective capabilities to identify areas for improvement and lacking the imagination to come up with a plan to better themselves.

It doesn’t matter which category you fall into, and despite my sarcastic or accusatory tone I am not judging anyone’s personal decision to partake or not in the social convention of a New Year’s resolution. But I will say there is undoubtedly a bit of a stench around the whole thing. We all know intuitively most of the little promises we make to ourselves this time of year will not be kept. And like any other holiday, we are put off by the clever marketing campaigns from businesses trying to make monetary gains off of our good intentions with fad diets, work out equipment, diet pills, medications for quitting smoking- the list goes on.

I think that’s why so many people angrily reject the idea, because deep down they know it’s mostly a bunch of bullshit. But I don’t want put people off from making an effort to feel better. Because that’s what these resolutions are really about. They’re about making changes to one’s life to feel better or to be happier. And quite frankly, I’m getting sick of letting corporate America and negative people ruin my holidays. Fuck these social engineers who work so hard to dictate how I spend my time and money. Just because I despise the corporate takeover of these holidays and traditions, doesn’t mean I need to give up my values or change the way I honor the passing of time into another calendar year.

How do I really feel about resolutions? Go for it. Even if you usually resist it. Who cares if everyone is doing it or if it’s hard or if it feels a little silly. There is no better time to make a change than now, if only for the simple fact that everyone around you will be more supportive. The feelings of change and possibility are in the air. Why not use that momentum to your advantage? But before you do, let’s take a look at why most of them don’t work out.

I think the main reason people fail at following through with their resolutions is that we are too desperate for instant results. A few reality checks: 1. If you’ve been overweight for years, it’s going to take more than a few weeks to get down to a healthy weight. 2. If you’ve been smoking for fifteen years, it will to take you more than fifteen days before you stop craving a cigarette. 3. That LPN course is going to take a year, cost money, and you’re going to have to study for it. All of that to say, shit isn’t easy. The journey has alway been more important than the destination, so if you make a commitment make sure you’re in it for the long haul.

But the real point is, and this is something I say all the time, is that a year is going to pass by whether you want it to or not. So come December 31 2015, do you want to be a LPN, do you want to be twenty pounds lighter, do you want to be your first year into a smoke free life. If the answer is yes, then get over this instant gratification crap.

Think through the overweight example with me. If you’re thirty years old, dangerously overweight, and decide you want to lose weight this year, the goal probably isn’t to just to reach a healthy weight by the time you’re thirty one. You probably want to be healthy at 32, 35, 40 50 etc. There is no short cut. The only thing you can do is make the daily decisions required that lead to the lifestyle changes necessary for you to be a happy, healthy and successful person. Who cares if it takes you a year to finish school, or lose weight, or finally stop craving a smoke? A year is going to pass by whether you want it to or not, so you might as well work on bettering yourself while it does.

Another thing that I think prevents a successful resolution is that people target the wrong things. Someone with a terrible diet might set a resolution to work out more in 2015, but until they change their diet, they will never have the energy needed to work out. They must change their eating first, and start working out after the benefits from the healthy eating start to kick in. One healthy decision will undoubtedly open up doors for even more healthy choices, even ones that seemed closed before.

Before setting a resolution, think about the root cause of the behavior you’re trying to change and that can help guide you to make the right resolution. If you want to quit smoking make sure you ask yourself why you smoke. If it’s because you’re stressed, then you’re probably going to have to deal with the cause of your stress first, or at least learn new coping mechanisms, before you can give yourself a fighting chance at quitting.

There is one last thing I think could get in people’s way of achieving their goals for the upcoming year, and that is a fear of failure. And to those I say, don’t be a chicken shit. Seriously, enough of the boo whoo poor me attitudes, especially if you’re in you’re thirties. Try something new, even it it means you might get a little mud on your face.

For those of you who like lists and might actually care about my opinions, here is a list of things that I think it’s time for people in their third decade on this earth to work on, if they need to and aren’t already:

Things to quit or reduce

1. Bing Drinking, smoking, and using drugs.

I know there is a way to have a healthy relationship with alcohol and  marijuana. I know it’s totally fine for people to enjoy a nice cigar every now and again. But being black out drunk is not a good look, and being addicted to any substance is a dangerous situation. The list of things humans need to survive is long enough, so I see no reason to add any more dependencies than those that are the most basic. Trust me, I have lost family members to drugs and alcohol, and if you think that first stroke or heart attack can’t happen in your thirties you’re lying to yourself.

2. Lying, stealing, cheating etc..

You’re not going to stop making mistakes, so try owning up to them and learning from them from now on. If you need something you don’t have, try to find the honest way to get it or even ask for it. Stealing is just slimy. I believe there was  a line in The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini saying something like there is but one sin in the world and that is stealing. And when you lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. So don’t do it.

3. Comparing yourself to others, being insecure, or jealous.

We’ve all struggled with insecurities and been down in the dumps at times. But at some point you have to start discovering what you like about yourself and begin working on the things you don’t like. Either way at some point you have to be comfortable with who you are. We are social beings and insecure and jealous people are just too damned exhausting to be around. If you want to be a valued member of a group, find out your unique contribution to that group and let everyone else do the same.

Things to work on or improve

1. Health and Hygiene

It’s time. If you don’t do it now it’s going to be even harder in your forties. Trust me. I just had a rude awakening at my last dental examination. Luckily my issues can be reversed with  basic care, but you can bet I’ve been brushing twice, flossing, and using mouth wash every day since. Don’t wait until diabetes sets in before you start losing weight, until COPD sets in before you quit smoking, or until you have to have major dental work before you start taking care of your mouth.

2. Communication

Just all forms- whether it is with coworkers, your kids, siblings or significant others and through email, phone, or face to face- improving how and what you communicate can be a game changer. I harped on this to some high school interns I was looking after at my previous job. I told them regardless of how smart they are or how many good ideas they have, it is just as important to be able to communicate those ideas to others. Or else, those ideas would just be trapped inside their heads. So don’t leave too many things trapped inside your head. Of course, how you say things can be just as important as what you’re saying. So all I can really suggest is know your audience and keep practicing.

3. Learn New Things

You know you’ve been wanting to learn something new for a while. Just buy the dang guitar already. Pick up the woodworking 101 book and some tools. Get some flour and some eggs and fire up that oven. Get your butt down to the MMA gym. Whatever it is just do it. There is a lot of science out there that suggests learning new things and creating new pathways in the brain has many positive health benefits, but besides that it’s just fun.

Ok, take all this with a grain of salt. I am not the resolution expert and didn’t spend a bunch of time and money collecting and analyzing data to come up with this list. It’s just me making recommendations on things I think are important. And trust me, I have plenty of things to work on myself so I am not claiming any type of moral high ground here, but I promise you I’m working on what I need to so I can achieve whatever my version of happiness is.

Thanks for reading.

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