Happy New Year! I hope all of you are still alive and have managed to find your way back from the combination Pizza Hut-Taco Bell that you woke up behind. Hopefully you all enjoyed impassively standing by and watching as the horror show of 2016 finally squirmed and writhed in its death throes in a puddle of its own sputum and blood as much as I did. What a wonderful thing. And I’m sure that all of you engaged in one of our most cherished New Year’s traditions: the formation of New Year’s resolutions. That you will promptly fail to make good on then abandon like so many orphaned puppies. In fact, failing to accomplish our resolutions is just as much a tradition as making them. But as my good buddy Botero said (Actually he didn’t say it. His work just happened to be meme-ified. Also we’re not actually friends.):
But why? Why do our resolutions fall through with such terrible regularity? I’ve been putting some thought into this, between the food, family, and alcohol (still not enough to get me behind a combination Pizza Hut-Taco Bell), and now I’ve realized something: making New Year’s resolutions is like online dating. Don’t worry about thinking how this could be so, I did all the heavy mental lifting for you. I’ve also put together a Resolution Interrogation Protocol that will help you come up with resolutions you actually have a chance of fulfilling. So now, if you’d sit back, clear the booze-fog from your head, and the glitter from your ears, I’ll explain myself.
Expectation vs. Reality
If you’ve ever done a stint with online dating, you must have had this experience.
Making a New Year’s resolution is the same idea. We create an idealized version in our heads without actually thinking about the possible ugly side of what we’re pursuing. For example, the most made resolution is to lose weight. Not a big surprise considering over the course of a holiday we pack away enough food to feed several hungry post-apocalyptic biker rebel enclaves. But when we think about the goal, we think about it in its most simplistic terms. In other words, we think about the perfect beach body, the toned abs, the chiselled arms, the bums that can crush walnuts. But what is that? Most likely, it’s a distillation, an abstraction of an idea. The idea is actually much blander, more granular, and more inclusive. For that body with will cause instant euphoria in anyone standing nearby to take shape, the person has to conduct an entire overhaul of his or her lifestyle. No more fast-food, more water, more exercise, no more cigarettes. It’s not glamorous, it’s not easy and it’s not fun. In fact a lot of the resolutions made require a lot of planning, a lot of effort, and a lot of persistence of frustration tolerance. You may be picturing washboard abs in your head at 11:59 P.M. on December 31st but you are not picturing the work, and the sweat, and the months of scrutinizing everything you put in your mouth. Just like those deceitful pictures that litter dating websites, the images in your head are not the whole story. Which brings me to the second way New Year’s resolutions are like dating websites.
You Lack True Intimacy
When I say intimacy I don’t mean doing the hot and heavy. (Come on, my whole my analogy revolves around dating so there have to be some sex jokes.) I’m talking about real intimacy, the kind of intimacy where you can share anything and everything with each other. You know each other at your worst and at your best. You accept each other when you’re glowing and healthy and also when your nose is a fountain and you’re practically snorting vapo rub to keep from asphyxiating. This kind of intimacy is impossible but we get the simulation of it when we peruse the countless listings on dating websites. In fact we get a glut of information, we get swamped with stats which leads us to think we know people more truly than we actually do. This is the same situations we find ourselves in with our resolutions. We never actually know nor are we prepared for all the details, all the planning that goes into making them reality. Another common resolution is saving money. It sounds easy. Just save money! Make sure the money stays in your pocket, or in the piggy bank, or in the cut out in your mattress. Simple. But that isn’t really the reality of it. Are you willing to expose yourself to going without the things you want? Are you ready to cut back on your personal pleasures? Can you accept the inconvenience and work associated with not going out to eat as often? Do you have a clear set of benchmarks that you can check to see how well you’re progressing? These are the kinds of intimate details that most people don’t consider when they’re making their resolutions. Unless you’re at that stage of engagement with your resolution, unless you’ve really taken the time to know what pursuing a particular goal means on more than just a superficial level, what chance do you think you have of accomplishing anything? Actually, as long as I’m spouting rhetorical questions into the ether of the internet, why is it that it’s just so easy to give up on our resolutions? Yes, it doesn’t help that we only look at the wonderful end results and that we don’t take the time to look at the actual mechanics involved in making a resolution come true. But there’s something else going on, something that ties into both of the preceding factors, creating a feedback loop of failure.
The Robe and Wizard Hat Effect
What is the thing tying the previous two problems together? It may seem to be that they’re both about self-imposed delusions but look more closely. Really smoosh your face into the issue. Starting to become clearer? The final problem with online dating and New Year’s resolutions is actually the root cause of both.
And that is you.
You see it’s your blind overestimation of yourself without the awareness of your flaws and weaknesses that will ultimately end up making sure you make no progress. In online dating, we often lose sight of the fact we’re trying to find compatible people to share a relationship with, not a new laptop. We sit in our comfy chairs and judge profile after profile, magnifying the flaws in each, coming up with reason after reason as to why this one or that one doesn’t measure up. We set impossible standards, tell ourselves that we deserve so much since we’re so entranced by the perceived flaws of others that we overlook our own, and end up alone at the end of the night, nursing a box of stale crackers while the TV reinforces how pathetic our lives our (I haven’t done the crackers thing but the rest may be true.) The same is true of the New Year’s resolution. It’s the, “New Year, new me,” mentality that ends up meaning nothing. It may be the new year, but it’s the same you and you still suck. You are the pillar on which your delusions rest and you are the pillock who, with no plan and no understanding of what your goals will entail, who will ultimately sabotage your own success. However, we believe that just because the Earth has made a revolution around the sun, all of a sudden we are cleansed of the problems that plague us. Again, it’s the belief we can just slip on our robe and wizard hat and magic will happen. Poof. Everything will work out now. But that’s not reality. We are all weighed down by flaws and unless we take care to keep an eye on them, they’ll drag us to the bottom.
So what do we do? Just stop making resolutions? Say, “This is my life now and it won’t get better?” Not quite but we do need to interrogate our resolutions and shape them to be actually executable. What follows is how to do just that.
Resolution Interrogation Protocol
- Focus on the Concrete
What could be more concrete than getting fit, losing weight, saving money? It pretty much explains itself. Except it doesn’t. It doesn’t tell us anything. What does fit mean? What does losing weight mean? What does saving money mean? If you said that you wanted to lose 20 pounds, that’s better. If you said that you wanted to save X amount of dollars by year’s end, that’s something you can aim yourself at. Even something like publishing a book is a nebulous thing. How long a book? Self-published or traditionally published? E-book or physical? What are the things that you can touch and actually measure? Which brings me to the next thing you need to sort out about your resolution before you press play.
- Who’s In Control Here?
Saying you’re going to do something isn’t a direct pipeline to getting it done, especially if it’s something not directly in your control. Saving money is not always in your direct control. Making more friends or having more of a social life depends on so many factors that are outside of your control that you may as well give in and hit the bottle in your sterile apartment before the clock strikes 12. These are failures in waiting and they’re failures because they can’t be completely controlled. Expenses that you hadn’t planned for can come up. You certainly weren’t planning on spending money on pest control after turtles keep invading your apartment through the shower. But shit happens. Just like you can’t control if your social life improves. However, you can do things like saying that you won’t go out to eat as much, won’t spend as much money on ornamental bejeweled scarab beetles, and such things. You can also plan to make time for yourself to join social clubs, volunteer, and visit the local nudist colony, all things that might lead to a better social life. Speaking ways to make your resolutions stick…
- Plan Ahead
You need to plan. A resolution is not a plan. It’s a wish, a dream and without a plan to scaffold and mold your actions, this dream will remain an amorphous mound of jelly sloshing around the bottom of your skull. Figure out what it will take to make the kinds of changes happen. Set benchmarks so that you can check yourself and keep yourself honest. For example, say you want to lose weight. You could plan to eliminate all soda and processed ersatz food from your diet as well as upping your physical activity. Then set a benchmark for a month in to see if you’re meeting your goals. Are you losing weight? Have you lost as much weight as you had wanted to by whatever mark you’ve set for yourself? You need to know what you’re going to do before you do it or else you’re going to default back to the same crappy habits that necessitated the making of this odious resolution in the first place. So know what you’re going to do then do it. But don’t be surprised when this golden, haloed fresh start turns into a shrieking demon-beast which brings me to one last point.
- Be Prepared for the Pain Parade with a Steady Reason
It’s going to be going so well at first. You will glow. Your friends and family will be so proud of you. Strangers will come up to you and shake your hand. Birds will nest in your navel.
And then the Pain Parade comes to town. A veritable procession of setbacks, frustrations, and self-doubts. This is the price to pay for making change, for triggering growth. And it’s these moments that will require you to know why it is you elected to go through this in the first place. So know why you’re doing it and make sure it’s a good reason. What does a good reason look like? Well, to use the weight loss resolution again, let’s look at a bad reason first. “I want to be ready for swimsuit season.” I’m going to give you about five seconds to spot what is wrong here. Time’s up. I lied. What is does swimsuit season have to do with weight loss? Nothing. It has to do with an image of yourself, sure, but there are plenty of overweight people who wear swimsuits no problem. This doesn’t address a sustainable why. Besides, once swimsuit reason is over are you just going to let the weight come back so you can make the same resolution next year? Contrast this with a good reason such as, “I want to live a more health conscious life and not have to worry about health problems associated with obesity.” Now we’re getting somewhere. Being health conscious is sustainable. It doesn’t come with an arbitrary termination point and it is focused on a behavior, not an image, not an external concept of how one should look. If you want to persevere in the face of setbacks, then make sure the reason is based on some kind of problem you are trying to fix, some behavior that you can have direct control over or that affects you in a tangible way. It needs to be a desire to shift some aspect of your life from a maladaptive behavior to a more positive one. This way when the pain does come, when life inevitably drops trow and squats squarely over your head, you know why you are willing to weather the shitstorm and what is waiting for you on the other side.
I hope that this has brought some clarity and understanding to your new year. I hope that this time next year you won’t all be back here wondering why you didn’t get this year’s resolutions completed. But until next time, I wish you all the best let’s hope we can make 2017 a better year than its predecessor.