Every year I tell myself I’m going to do something really productive that’ll add substance to my life or bring me some sort of comfort. Last year I resolved to quit smoking. The year before I promised myself I’d lose twenty pounds. Actually, I had decided to do both of these things every year for the last five years, but January just keeps on rearing its head and taunting me to remake these promises and others.
New Year Resolutions, in my experience, tend to be mildly ridiculous in nature. They seem to always require some skill I don’t have, some will-power I’m unwilling to derive, a tool I’ll certainly not acquire, or means which will foreseeably remain out of my reach. Why do I do this to myself? It’s such a silly ritual – on the verge of superstition even. But so many people make them.
“Well I have to buy a new calendar on Wednesday, guess I better start workin’ out, or run a marathon or something.”
“I suppose I’ll eat more vegetables, and watch less TV.”
“I reckon I’ll be more attentive in my relationships this Wednesday.”
“Yep, On Wednesday I’ll start saving, stop eating fast food, learn to love myself, become bi-lingual, take a trip, meditate, take in some live-theater, become less self-conscious, pay off my credit cards, quit biting my toenails and begin an organization to piggy-back cripples all over town!”
People are nuts! Honestly, the concept of bettering oneself for the sake of being better is a pretty decent idea. And, good on the guy or gal who thought it up. But, what the hell, man? At what point do we draw the line between betterment and self-hate.
Do we really possess so few amiable qualities that we are in need of consciously acquiring new ones? Are we so unimpressive that we must accomplish enormous feats to prove our worth? And, who are we attempting to justify our existence to? Ourselves, our spouses, our families, our acquaintances, our Gods?
Surviving the first year of human life is remarkable. Keeping up with our peers in the monotonous confines of public school for 13 years is astounding. Think of all the challenging social horrors everyone overcame in those years: trying to listen to the right music, trying not to sound stupid, trying to sound cool, trying to wear the right clothes – the right way, trying to look athletic, trying to cover up pimples, trying to talk to the opposite sex, trying to learn enough to pass 35+ classes, juggling friends, emotionally charged relationships, parents’ demands, first jobs, learning to handle money, etc. It might be that the only reason anyone survives modern adolescence at all is due to distraction from the option not to.
And after most of that nonsense finally subsides as we reach our early twenties life begins to move so rapidly that most of the memories spiral past us and stretch over years and become nothing more than vague outlines in the margins of our minds. Yet we press on.
So don’t be so hard on yourself this year. You’re doing just fine. Regardless of where you are in life, you’re probably, at least, okay. And rather than become resolute in achieving some whacky pipe-dream I have a suggestion: try to write down five or ten things that you already do fairly well, or are decent at, and resolve to accentuate those qualities, instead.
So if you find yourself good-looking, be even better looking! No…not really. But, for example, if you feel you’re fairly generous, empathetic, an honest employee, a social-bug, and you eat two baby-carrots on the first Tuesday of every other month…. Try to find ways to emphasize your generosity. This doesn’t always entail money; many organizations will gladly accept your time, and you can use the experience to broaden your social network. You might read about a culture or subculture in society that you’d otherwise written off in an effort to learn about them and heighten your ability to empathize. Try to go out of your way to save money at work, or think of a way to improve something in the workplace that would otherwise be overlooked. And eat your damn vegetables, people! They’re. Good. For. You.
In other words, focus on your better qualities and put them to use more often. Recognizing your positive attributes builds confidence, and being this vague with your resolutions will allow for more opportunities to accomplish them. If you exploit those opportunities, I think you’ll find it a more rewarding and positive experience overall. Of course, if you can’t think of five things… there’s always a marathon.