How to Make Practical New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Enigma

The more I tell myself New Year’s Eve doesn’t matter to me, the more I realize it does. That’s the power of negative suggestion. The more you tell yourself not to think about something the more you do (quick, try not to think of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man).

I try to roll my eyes at the Calendar, thinking the New Year is just another number; an arbitrary changing of the digits, a human construct with as much meaning as daylight savings. It’s still going to be cold in Minneapolis on January 2. Nothing significant is going to change, but that’s the thing that always gets under my skin. It isn’t merely about the festivities of the evening. It’s about how much distance I’ve put between this version of myself and the one from the year before.

I didn’t mean to make any resolutions way back when, but they just popped in there. My subconscious gave me a lot of homework and here I am a year later on some sort of academic probation. No matter what thoughts I fill my head with on December 31st these resolutions will seep in:

  • make a significant advancement in your career
  • make your blog self-sustaining
  • get your book published
  • take the love you’ve been hoarding and give it to someone

Life is about change, but change can be slow and incremental. It’s hard to see change on the horizon and it leaves few tracks from where you came. When we can see it coming it’s intimidating. Most of us swerve to avoid it. We get stuck in grooves; pressing our palms against our pay ceilings, pacing our one bedroom ruts, getting burned by the devils we know.

So many of us live with a gambler’s fallacy, thinking we’ve already lost so much to the same slot machine that it’s overdue to pay out. We eke by on little wins, rarely getting the courage to take what we’ve got to the roulette wheel and place a real bet.

Take it from a writer: it takes courage to break your routine without an inciting incident, to leave a comfortable rut behind and venture past the point of no return, to go on a quest without the certainty that what you seek will be there at the end.

This New Year’s Eve let’s look past our annual expectations and see what we really want from our resolutions: we want change. We want to improve our quality of living with good company in comfortable surroundings. We want a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and validation. We want to be able to look at ourselves a year from now with improved self-perception.

So how do we do we change without losing our minds?

On Practical New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Eve isn’t magical. It isn’t Cinderella’s Ball. It’s not the one night of the year to accomplish all your dreams. A wish upon a star in January is just as valid as one made in October, prayers aren’t any louder at the 11th hour, and hope doesn’t weigh any more. The date just feeds into the illusion of fate.

You don’t need to wait until January 1 to start making life changes, and you’re not a failure if your start working on changing halfway through the year. Changes based on short term attainable goals are far more likely to succeed than lofty ambitions proclaimed in the immediacy of the moment.

It’s okay to take a rain check on your resolutions to set yourself up for success later on. Take the time to do the leg work first. If you want to quit smoking in 2016, give yourself a month to shop for nicotine gum and patches, save the gum for when you get angry for no good reason, and don’t declare your intention to quit until your last cigarette is several months behind you. Pro tip: the physical addiction passes in a week, the rest is all about stress management and replacing reward systems. Don’t wait until your daily stressors diminish (there’s always going to be something). Just accept that there will be low moments where you’d kill for a cigarette and know that they’ll pass.

If you want to get into shape give yourself a buffer to plan a diet and workout regiment you can do from home, rather than joining a gym on January 2. Allow for slip ups in your diet and off days in your workout routine, so you don’t give up just because you can’t commit to the strictest commitment.

Discipline need not mean all or nothing. You can take a mental health day and get back on the horse again.

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On Resolving to Write More

Sometimes the best way to set yourself up for success is to manage your expectations, to have a flexible timeline, and to work toward your big goal through a series of little ones. If you plan to write your first novel in 2016 don’t wait to start drafting, hell go ahead and get the first few chapters going as soon as you can.

Often I’ll get a clever line of dialogue and decide to jump into a scene several chapters in. Sometimes I’ll get a cool idea for a setting before I have characters to fill it with. Sometimes I have a premise that promises an incredible payoff and I discover the ending while writing.

If you’re afraid you’ll run out of ideas early you could release your story as a 30 thousand word novelette, or a 60 word novella. Most first time authors write shorter 80 thousand word novels. You have options.

Closing Thoughts

If you have to make a resolution to change your routine, make sure that it’s something that will give you a series of little wins, something you can pat yourself on the back for when next year comes around.

Writers are always told to show not tell in their prose. We’re not supposed to announce how our characters feel, but rather take the time to write a scene that illustrates feelings through actions. Well, the show don’t tell rule applies to how writers live too. Instead of telling yourself (or your friends, family, and coworkers) that you’re thinking of taking the plunge and writing the novel, start working on it first and show them your work.

The best time to talk about your New Year’s Resolutions is the year after you’ve made them.

•••

This is my first collection of musical spoken word recordings. Each recording puts a satirical slant on self improvement, self medicating heartbreak with humor, and dropping the mic on depression. The recordings are scored with synth melodies, backing beats, and radio drama sound FX.

4 thoughts on “How to Make Practical New Year’s Resolutions”

  1. One of my best friends and I were just talking about the “illusion” of time markers (like “New Years”) where goals are concerned. On one hand, I do know a lot of people who use New Years as an excuse to indulge in even more negative behavior (e.g., “I’m starting that really strict diet January 1st, so I’m getting in all the cake and pizza I can right now!”). On the other hand, we humans do find value in time markers where the sense of “new starts” are concerned (whether that be New Year or just a new DAY).

    One additional thought on keeping to goals / resolutions: don’t micromanage.

    Instead of saying, “I’m going to write two pages a day,” try “I’m going to write at least 25 pages a month. Then you have flexibility to less, more or none on different days and still achieve the goal.

    Likewise, instead of saying, “I’m going to go to the gym 5 days a week and cut my calorie count to X per day,” try “I’m going to lose a consistent 8 to 10 pounds per month for the next three months. Then, the how has some flexibility. Big party with awesome food? Add some running to your week. Miss a week at the gym while on vacation? Try eating more vegetables and fewer carbs than usual the following week; then go back to whatever you were doing.

    Like

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