It’s that time of year again: time to make New Year’s resolutions. Do you feel like you just did that? Every year it’s the same thing: take stock of your life, find the places you’ve fallen short, and resolve to do better in the new year. You’ll lapse by Jan. 3 just like always, but that’s beside the point. The point is, do we really have to do this same thing, over and over and over again?
The answer is, “yes, of course.”
We need a break in time to separate the day-to-day progression of one year to the next. We hang up a new calendar and make New Year’s resolutions, just like we did the year before and the year before that. It’s the New Year’s Resolution Rut.
Even a newspaper columnist can get stuck in the rut of New Year’s repetition.
In 2011, I wrote about the art to making New Year’s resolutions:
“Vagueness is the key. You should never make a resolution to do something specific every day. Don’t say you’ll do fifteen pushups at bedtime each night. Instead, say you’ll try to exercise more in the new year. Then if you do even one pushup, why, that’s more than what you did last year, so you’ve fulfilled your resolution. Don’t say you’ll lose ten pounds — say you’ll watch what you eat. You can watch each tasty bite as it makes it’s inexorable way to your mouth, and still abide by your resolution.
I like to resolve to accomplish something each day. Already I’m tempting fate, by saying I’ll do it every day. But I’m saved by the vagueness of the word ‘something.’ I don’t say I’ll accomplish something momentous each day. Sometimes it’s an accomplishment just to get out of bed in the morning. Then I’ve started out by fulfilling my goal for the whole day, and everything else I do is an added bonus. It’s all a matter of interpretation.”
In 2014 I revisited the issue of New Year’s resolutions:
“There are two kinds of resolutions: the daily habit kind, and the more global change-your-ways kind.
The daily habit type of resolution, while admirable, is the absolute hardest to keep. For example, you might resolve to make your bed every morning. You faithfully make your bed for thirteen days straight, and then you slack off and leave a slovenly heap of blankets trailing off the side of your mattress. Two weeks into the new year, and you’ve failed for all time. Your resolution was to make your bed every day, remember? You missed a day — automatic F. So now that you’ve failed, there’s no incentive to keep up with the bed making for the remaining 352 days of the year. Even if you have a perfect record for the rest of the year, that one day you missed messes up the entire resolution. Might as well just leave the bed unmade for the duration, and try again next year.
Then you have the change-your-ways type of resolution. Rather than specifying 50 push-ups every morning, you resolve to get more exercise in the New Year. You might even resolve to lose weight in order to fit back into those cute jeans you wore in 1995 and still keep hopefully in your bottom drawer. Since there’s not a daily component to this type of resolution, there’s not so much incentive to give up when you inevitably lapse. But by the same token, you don’t have that daily reminder that you need to exercise, so the risk is that you will get to December, gaze at the bountiful plates of fudge and Christmas cookies surrounding you, and realize that you’ve only done a minimal bit of exercise throughout the year and have not lost one single pound. What good did your New Year’s resolutions do you in the long run?”
Now at the end of 2017, I have to confess that I haven’t made a whole lot of progress. I still don’t make my bed every day or exercise with any regularity. I can’t say that my life has ever changed dramatically between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, with or without resolutions. But I’ll probably make some this year, nonetheless. It’s good to do the same thing, over and over and over again.
• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and author who writes cozy mysteries under the name “Greta McKennan.” Her latest book, “Historically Dead,” is now available. She likes to look at the bright side of life.