On New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a weird example of social contagion because the refreshing of the calendar is an odd catalyst for self-improvement. If anyone’s serious about self-improvement, why wait until such an arbitrary starting point? You shoulda got started yesterday.

Despite that cynicism, I’m all-in on alternative types of resolutions—ones grounded in greater self-acceptance. Maybe people should resolve the following types of things:

  • To accept that I will not eat as healthily as I probably should.
  • To be okay with the fact that I will not exercise as much as I probably should.
  • To not beat myself up for not saving as much money as I probably should.

The Slate staff has taken this one step further by advising that you mark the New Year by embracing vices instead of resolutions—whether sleeping in on weekends, driving when you can walk, or having a cigarette.

Count me in on Slate’s contrarian, probably tongue-in-check thinking, as another viable alternative to most people’s constant striving for some sort of idealized perfection.

Wouldn’t our mental health be better if this year we dedicated ourselves to trying to accept our limits, our insecurities, our imperfections?

I’ll lead the way with this overarching resolution—I resolve to expect less from myself this year. “Friends” will wonder how that’s possible, but they no doubt mean well.

If you think I’ve finally totally lost it, knock yourself out trying this.

Postscript: Via email, a PressingPause loyalist replied thusly:

“I agree the goal of embracing ones imperfections is one of the most valuable, but how does having a goal in general mean someone is striving for idealized perfection?  Also, I like having society wide markers like holidays. I think it makes us feel more like a community.  And some people may stress over breaking their resolutions, but not everyone.  I just think it’s just the idea of new beginnings. Like baptism or new growth in Spring.”




Spent Saturday at the King County Acquatic Center in Federal Way (the “KCAC” if you’re cool) watching the State YMCA Championship swim meet with over four hundred competitors. Fourteen’s swimming career began last August at the start of high school. She decided to swim because she recognized she wasn’t lighting the soccer world on fire, her parents encouraged it, her older sissy was a co-captain, and she thought it would be a good way to make friends.

The season exceeded her expectations in part because she improved a lot, a result of swimming five times a week and improving her technique. Dropping time is fun. Now though she’s an intermediate swimmer and dropping time is considerably harder. And swimming isn’t as fun. Saturday she swam more slowly than she had hoped. There had to be an explanation she thought. “Was the pool meters?”

The great thing about competitive swimming is there’s an almost perfect correlation between one’s training, pre-race prep, and race day performance. Fourteen misinterpreted her results on Saturday. Her conclusion, “I didn’t race very well. Just didn’t have a good day. Maybe I’m not as good as I thought.” The truth of the matter is she hasn’t been training consistently and intensely enough to swim any faster. It doesn’t matter if you have the perfect track on on your iPod pre-race and are completely amped, race day is simply a barometer of the quality of your training. The question is have you put in the time, have you done the work?

Aren’t we all like Fourteen? We often want to see improvement in some aspect of our lives without investing much time and energy in whatever it is? For example, recently I’ve read some extremely successful blogs that generate one hundred plus comments per post. When I do this I don’t think about how much time those bloggers spend on their blogs, I just say to myself, self, “You should have a blog like that.”

One’s blog readership and juice is almost exclusively a barometer of time and energy invested. The blogosphere is a meritocracy.

So the question for Fourteen, me, and maybe you, is how badly do we want to swim fast, have a widely read blog, get out of debt, lose weight, make a relationship work? Fourteen has other priorities like school and I have a day job. She swims and I blog “on the side” or maybe the “side of the side”. Maybe you try to reduce spending, save money, eat more healthily, exercise more consistently, and spend quality time with your partner “on the side”.

The challenge is being honest with ourselves about what’s most important. In the meantime, we shouldn’t be surprised by the meager results of our sporadic, abbreviated labors.

Eastward Ho

Conventional wisdom suggests we should be planning for the year ahead writing down specific, measurable personal finance, family, health, intellectual, work, service, spiritual goals. Fools don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.

I’m just not feelin’ it.

Instead, I’m at a point in my life where positive processes hold more allure than specific, measurable goals. Rather than focus on tangible products, I want to tweak my already healthy daily routines that create positive momentum in my life.

If I remember to whom much is given much is required, spend an hour or two a day moving, save more than I spend, read and write regularly, pay attention to my wife and daughters, and do right by my friends, students, and co-workers, 2010 will turn out well.