Time doesn’t wait for us to catch up, and neither will most people. What we ultimately decide to do with ourselves is less a matter of grand announcements and more a matter of private responsibility. After a while, we no longer define our processes, though our processes will most certainly define us.
I don’t know who said that anymore, or even if that’s exactly what was said, but it’s close enough.
Most statistics reveal that at least two-thirds of us have already significantly backed off of our once-passionate New Year’s resolutions by mid-February—and abandoned them altogether by March.
It’s pretty intriguing if you think about it. How does a decision arrived at with such hope and constructive energy unravel with such ease, and disappear without so much as a second glance for many of us? It would be an interesting area of study: The Failed New Year’s Resolution.
Mark Twain once famously quipped: “… now is the accepted time to make your annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual.”
Writer P.J. O’Rourke was a bit more specific: “The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. The drunkenness culminates on New Year’s Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you’re married to.”
Life gets in the way of itself, and we have an amazing talent for becoming entangled as such. The holidays are certainly the climax of the commercial season. The bombardment from all angles, by companies attempting to separate us from our money, typically ends around Christmas, only to pick up a few days later, as post-holiday sales kick in and the rush to define our new year with bargains and incredible deals is only outdone by the frenzy of said companies to separate us from even more money and kick-start their first quarters with the same profits that saturated the previous one.
Perhaps it is within this annual pattern that we start to get a little caught up in the madness, the commercialism, the pattern. For some of us, the last few months of the year have been building up like a pile of dirty laundry. Everything we said we were going to attend to during the summer is still somehow half-finished. Resolutions from last year were addressed with vigor for about a month, followed by a slight resurgence six months later, and then an official abandonment shortly thereafter.
We now sit staring at many of the same old items on our annual to-do list, as well as a swarm of new ideas, hopes, and topics. If nothing else, the subtle letdown of a year spent getting in the way of ourselves, combined with the chaos of November and December, likely has us reaching for the escape hatch in any manner of ways—and a New Year’s resolution feels like the perfect means by which to start fresh, reorganize, and get back on track.
We’re also creatures of habit, for better or worse, and often convince ourselves that every good effort should have a proper timetable, a proper beginning and end. Not to say that such a formula isn’t effective, as much of life is dictated by such order, and probably should be—but we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as it applies to a “start date” for something, particularly a resolution, as well as a proper time at which we assume the acceptable result should be achieved. We put such emphasis on this regimen that when certain inevitabilities start to alter the course of the program, it compromises our focus, instead of simply stimulating an adjustment.
We hear so many stories about grand plans coming undone due to temporary setbacks or occurrences that ultimately go away just as randomly as they arrived. But for some reason, this significantly disrupts our rhythm—enough in many cases to derail the resolution entirely.
Somehow, lost amid the resulting frustration and confusion, is the simple truth that every day can be New Year’s, in terms of resolutions. The entire program can unravel like a helpless, hopeless ribbon in the wind, but then be re-established with a simple adjustment and the revelation that TODAY is the new “day one.” It’s not always a walk in the park, but let’s face it, the promises that people back off of as the year begins to move along usually outpace the efforts made to regain any lost momentum.
For whatever reason, we are usually able to accept not only apathy, but complete surrender, with equal or more energy than that which we applied to the original plan in the first place. Why? Have the cookie-cutter resolutions become so predictable and boring that they’re easy to announce, and then easier to relinquish? As a society, is the preponderance of distractions that fill our days the true culprit? Or, are goals best met when not connected to some larger, collective blueprint, but rather within a personal framework that we build for ourselves in private, and navigate accordingly?
While the author is anonymous, the statement is familiar: “Many people look forward to the new year to get a new start on old habits.” Is that it? Are we such creatures of habit that convincing ourselves of what we’re going to do differently this year is just part of an annual routine?
Or is it about being average? Do we feel too ordinary, having trudged through the year and, more directly, the holiday season just like everyone else, only to look back and see that our attempt to separate ourselves from the collective routine fell to the wayside once again? According to Jay Leno: “Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average, which means you have met your New Year’s resolution.”
Like any good plan, perhaps it’s not the idea or the passion behind it that facilitates a plateau, but merely the preparation. Do we understand the capacity of the project we have connected ourselves to, as well as our own capacity to see it through?
Have we done the research on the most important part of this equation: us? It’s easy to tell the room that you’re going to lose thirty pounds this year or stop smoking or pay off all of your credit cards, but have you put together the blueprints for the project yet?
Do you have anything to go on, outside of the glorious announcement? How many of us would get a little tongue-tied if someone immediately asked us how we planned on achieving our goal? If two-thirds of us fail at properly pursuing our New Year’s resolutions, I’d imagine that the percentages for those of us who didn’t have a plan in the first place are as high if not higher. As basic as it sounds, the development of an organized, structured plan somehow gets lost in the translation for a lot of folks, and the result is simply another year having to explain to others what happened (and finally having to explain it to ourselves).
Ultimately, there are millions of resolutions just floating around us all, waiting to be claimed. But we do both the ideas and ourselves a great disservice by grabbing ahold of them without a proper idea as to how we plan on succeeding. It’s one of the great lessons of life—plan, implement, follow through. And the time of year should be the least of our concerns.