New Year’s Resolutions: A User’s Guide

In North America, the top three New Year’s Resolutions are; lose weight, get out of debt and get organized.  These are really good resolutions for fat, sloppy people who’ve maxed out their credit cards but for the rest of us, they’re useless.  Trust me: if you make any one of these resolutions — as they stand — you’re doomed.  You’ve got about as much chance of keeping them as getting bitten by a Forks, Washington vampire and living happily ever after.  The problem is not the resolution — in actual fact, most North American need to drop a few kilos — it’s the madness in the method.  Most people approach New Year’s Resolutions as if they’ve just been convicted of a major crime and the judge is about to pronounce sentence.  They’re a penance.  That’s not the way to do it.  Here are a few simple rules that will almost guarantee resolution success – unless, of course, you are a fat, sloppy, smoker with eighteen overdue credit cards.  If that’s the case, you need more help than I can provide.

Be Specific – “I’m going to lose weight” doesn’t mean anything.  In fact, you probably just said that to get the girlfriend off your back.  Losing weight is way to blurry to even think about.  A New Year’s Resolution should never span the universe in a single bound like that.  It needs to be pinpoint specific.  The difference between “I’m going to lose weight” and “I’m going to lose twenty pounds” is huge. One is a massive undertaking, lost in a vague notion; the other is a simple task, infinitely doable – especially in twelve months.  New Year’s Resolutions need to be that specific with a measurable result.

Define the Result – What do you want at the end?  “I’m going to quit smoking” is not a result; it’s a task.  The result is you’re not going to be coughing up a kidney every time you play anything more strenuous than darts.  That’s a good result.  Given their druthers, people will naturally sit on their asses.  The only way to get them moving is to show them the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  This is even truer (if that’s possible) when you’re having an internal dialogue.  You need to clearly define what you’re going to get at the end of the resolution and keep that firmly in mind.  Otherwise, all you’re doing is talking to yourself.

Be Reasonable — If you owe Visa half the national debt of Italy, it’s not reasonable to expect you’re going to get out of debt in 2012.  Your New Year’s Resolutions need a chance to survive.  A more reasonable resolution would be, “I’m going to pay off just one credit card, chop it into little pieces, bake it into a brownie and give it to my banker next Christmas.”  This is a reasonable resolution, and it’s certainly out there on the motivation front.

Have a Plan – Don’t fall into the trap of making a New Year’s Resolution without any idea of how you’re going to do it.  “I’m going to get organized” means a lot more that finding out what’s growling in the back of the refrigerator.  You need to know what you’re going to do with that thing once you haul it out of there.  Small is better, so try downsizing the tasks: first the fridge — finish it — then start on the closet.  If you try to do everything at once, you’re just going to be overwhelmed and sink back into the debris.  Besides, if you’re even moderately normal you’re going to need a lot of experience before you tackle the basement or the garage.

Go Public – Tell everybody what you’re doing.  There’s always some jerk who’s going to “I told you so!” if you’re still puffing the Marlboros next Christmas, but take the chance.  Everybody needs a fan club, and you’d be surprised how many people are in your corner.  It helps to know that there are people out there cheering for you.

Bring a Friend – It’s a lot easier to do anything if you’ve got company.  There’s no rule that says resolutions are solitary activities.  “We resolve to read two books a month” makes it easier to read at least one.

Have Fun – The reason we make resolutions is because we want to accomplish something.  They’re not punishment for eating cake, or taking the elevator or buying shoes.  They’re how we want to be in the future.  So why not have some fun getting there?

Happy New Year!


Grog and his New Year’s Resolution

Every year, at about this time, I take a pen (remember those?) and a piece of paper and write:  “New Year’s Resolutions” and whatever year is bursting on the horizon.  I write #1 and then I write “Be more ruthless.”  There’s always a bunch of other, currently important resolutions, that may or may not matter next year, but I’m convinced that, over the course of several years, I will actually become more ruthless, simply by writing it down once a year.  That’s the power of New Year’s resolutions — it could happen.   New Year’s Resolutions are that idea that we can somehow be better — if we just set our mind to it.  And we can.  Primitive man knew this and acted accordingly.

For example, in Europe, back in the caveman days, there were two groups of people: the Cro-Magnon and the Neanderthals.  They were both basic knuckle-draggers, but there is one important difference.  The Cro-Magnon people survived and the Neanderthals died out.  Why?  I’m convinced that the Cro-Magnon understood the concept of improvement.  It’s pretty far-fetched to consider a bunch of Cro-Magnons sitting around the cave making plans to go to the gym or start an RRSP, but in caveman terms, I think that’s exactly what they did.  Meanwhile, the Neanderthal hillbillies down the block were picking their noses and wondering why they never seemed to get ahead.  If you multiply that situation by, let’s say, 30 thousand years, Darwin and his theory kick in, and suddenly the Neanderthals are wondering where all their friends went.  On the other hand, the Cro-Magnons have all the cool stuff — like circles and pointy sticks and the missionary position.  The layers of knowledge build up, and before you know it, your species is evolving.  In essence, the reason the Cro-Magnon people are the roots of our family tree and the Neanderthals are bones in a museum is that the Cro-Magnons learned how to do things better.  They also knew there was a thing called tomorrow.

Here’s the deal: it’s December 31st, no year (because they didn’t have them.)  Grog is sitting around the cave.  Mrs. Grog and the kids are huddled over in the corner, shivering and bitchin’ because it’s cold.  Gender equality wasn’t an issue in those days, so it’s Grog’s job to go out in the snow to get wood for the fire.  Grog grunts and groans and hollers and stomps around, but he does it; it’s a matter of survival.  When everybody’s toasty warm again, Grog is still thinking about how much he hates going out in the cold to get wood.  He’s just a little bit smarter than the average Cro-Magnon, so he understands that the snow is eventually going to go away and wood gathering is going to be a lot easier.  But — and this is way more important — he also knows that the snow is cunning, and it always comes back.  Ding dong!  The light goes on!   Grog says to himself, “Wait a minute!  If I get those useless kids to gather wood all summer, when it’s easy, and pile it over in the corner of the cave, I won’t have to go out in the cold to get it when the snow comes back.”  So Grog “resolves” to gather wood next year or make the kids do it.  Grog has a pile more time in the winter to do things like sharpen his pointy sticks (which makes hunting a lot better.)  The family eats better and more often.  At some point, Grog’s neighbours, two caves down, are going to see this and either put two and two together or ask, “Hey, Grog! You lookin’ fat, dumb and happy.  What’s your secret?”  The family Grog and the whole tribe are on the road to evolution because Grog’s kids are going to grow up and make their kids gather wood, too — “just like I did when I was your age.” From there, it’s only a matter of time before somebody’s going to decide that it would be kinda cool if a guy from Ohio took a stroll on the moon.

That’s why we make resolutions and why — every year — I write them down.  It’s not that I keep them (or even remember some of them) but we all have to try: the survival of our species depends on it.