Let's talk about resolutions.
It’s New Years Eve 2018, which means people are thinking about the year that’s passed, the year yet to come, and that trash-panda of goal-setting, New Years Resolutions. Like raccoons, their positive public image hides a reality of rabies and euthanasia, of talk show hosts loudly asking everyone about their goals while the folks at home ready their wallets for six months of gym memberships they secretly know they’ll never use.
Raccoons get great press: funeral rights in Toronto, second billing as Disney-sidekicks, a hilarious internet moniker. Their grabby paws are so cute, you can’t even be mad when they take a hot bath in the electric kettle you left out at your campsite. The second you move the raccoons out of the theoretical, meme-worthy, or cartoon settings, however, the public narrative changes. Ask anyone in the American South about raccoons and you’d think they were all rabid burglar demons that destroy neighborhoods and titter as dogs bork their way toward fatal aneurysms.
It goes like this: you think there’s a possum under your house and so you call someone to catch it. You’ll pay them $7k. They bait a live trap with lemon-pepper tuna. You wonder why you didn’t just buy a damn live trap and some lemon-pepper tuna. Then it turns out there isn’t a possum under your house but a fuzzy little trash panda. Hooray!Not hooray. Because state law apparently requires euthanization of captured raccoons. Now there’s a dead Disney sidekick, and it’s your fault, you’re out another $7k on therapy, and they still haven't caught the possum.
New Years Resolutions are like that. The media loves them, capitalism capitalizes on them, and everyone else talks about them with that knowing gleam in their eyes, like someone’s just said they’ve accepted a job teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at a wizard school in Scotland.
Because Everyone Knows You Don’t Keep New Years Resolutions.
That’s bullshit. It cheapens our goals by teaching us that we, as a society, don’t expect ourselves to succeed. Lots of us pick something like losing weight, finally learning to play the guitar, or reading a book a week, and we choose it in a half-assed kind of way, knowing that no one actually expects us to succeed. We can sneak off the proverbial bandwagon with the rest of the crowd, give each other a conspiratorial wink, and laugh off any hints of shame because it’s a New Years Resolution, cursed to fail.
Even worse, the people in your life who have already jumped off will be waiting for you to reaffirm the okay-ness of their failure, and some of them might feel threatened if you start succeeding. Instead of giving support, they will treat you like you've committed some cultural faux pas by doing what you said you would.
Resolution comes from resolve. It means commitment and determination. It doesn’t mean settling for complacency. Because goals are hard. They’re really, really fucking hard. They take time and energy and resources—they take sacrifice. It's a lot more than most people are willing to face after five days of pie and holiday-themed reruns.
The sad part is, I actually love the idea of a New Year’s Resolution—an entire society taking the time to sit down and reflect on the past year, to decide what we want out of the next 365 days. Can you imagine what would happen if we, as a culture, spent December 31st in reflection, and January 1st sitting down, charting a course that might take us through the untraveled year, closer to something we truly want?
I’m getting inspired just thinking about it. Of course, that might also be my reaction to the idea of consumer holiday machine creating planners, schedules, books, guides, stationary, and tv shows about achieving goals… I'm fanning myself with one of my planners.
Here’s the biggest problem I see: we’re not always ready to make a commitment at the same time every year. We’re not constellations, always near the same place on January first, looking down from the same vantage. We might not be mentally, emotionally, spiritually, energetically, astrologically ready to make a change.
It’s just that the New Year feels like a clean slate. It feels like a reset button, a fresh start. It feels like you can leave all your baggage behind in 2018 and start fresh.
I'd love that. I definitely want to forget the deadlines I missed when depression took me out at the knees and pneumonia came in for the kill. I want to forget the words I wrote on things that died in the water and the words I didn’t even try to write at all. Forget my failure to lose weight, to find love, my continued failure to be okay with being alone. I wish I could leave the girl who sucks at routine, at consistency, at the things everyone knows are necessary to success behind and walk into this fresh new year, totally unencumbered.
Those things aren’t gone, though. The things I did, the things I failed to do, won’t cease to exist just because I can throw away that calendar full of unchecked boxes.
And that’s the hard part, isn’t it? Those first few days—weeks, maybe—where you feel revitalized by the idea of a fresh new year don’t last forever. The traits and thoughts and habits that led to those unchecked boxes will eventually catch up, and that’s when that easy exit onto the Cursed Resolution highway starts to look attractive.
This is where I think I’ve gone wrong in the past. Reflection is more important than I ever gave it credit for. I’ve let those unchecked boxes be a drag-anchor, when they could be a signpost. I know I schedule myself onto unreasonable timelines. I know I do far too many things as once. I know my fear of missing out is responsible for a lot of my too-tight scheduling.
I schedule my ideal. I assume I’ll have a bad writing day during the week, when the reality is, I tend to get only one good one. I manage two weeks of waking up at 5am and kicking my schedule’s ass, and forget that I have clinical depression, and that focus and drive could slip for a week. Or two. Or six. And that it will be even harder to get back on it when I pull out of the dive.
I don’t allow myself to be who I am when I set goals. I set goals for the person I would like to be, because somewhere in my brain there is a murky limbo where I stash things I don’t have the capacity to think about—commitments I’m late on, promises I made myself, things I don’t want to admit to wanting. These things stay in limbo because I don’t have the energy or the time or the balls to look at them, and they also refuse to be forgotten. I see their silhouettes stalking me when I’m tired, the flash of ambition like a fish vanishing, when my friends tweet their successes.
Reflection needs to be a thing. Reflection is when these ugly and self-shaming things get pulled out and examined, where you look at the shit you’ve refused to acknowledge and mine it for information. You make it do work to help you.
Things that live in my murk
I have no energy. I’m an emotional wreck 75% of the time. The other 25%, I’m like a Labrador retriever trying to carry a stick and twelve balls while that fucking raccoon is scratching around in the crawl space and my master won’t call a wildlife control service because she’s a Hufflepuff and doesn’t own a live trap.
Most of the time, I feel like time is racing and I will never, ever be able to do enough with it. I hate that I “waste” my time writing fanfiction, when I'm trying to make a career and need to be writing original work. I hate having obsessions, though they're the mechanism of both my failure and success.
I bet every single person who reads this can empty out that murky place in your head and find all kinds of ugliness you’d rather not see.
But if you're not ready to do that on January first? Fuck it. Don't. Leave this arbitrary set of dates with its seduction of champagne and blank calendars behind and take the time you need. Build your resolve. Get yourself to a place where you're ready to make change. Don't set yourself up for failure by feeling that it's New Years or never. Start when you're excited, angry, frustrated, inspired, and focused enough to succeed.
And if that’s now? Awesome. Grab a journal. Grab your phone or a sketchbook or pull up a word document on your computer. Write down all the crap that’s living in your limbo. Every shortcoming, every failure. The hard truth about your productivity and habits. All the raccoons under your your house. Put it out there. Now it’s out of your head and on the page, where it can't jump-scare you at 3am when you're trying to fall asleep.
Now you can see it, and use it. So what's next?
For me, it's an honest look at my time and energy. Not only what I can do in the time I have with the energy I have, but what I can do to increase both. I started doing this in 2018…or I thought I did. What began as an endeavor to farm marketing out to my friends accidentally turned into a new business, but…Yeah, okay. I'll write that down: attempts to decrease work should not create more than it offloads.
Alright, brain penners. Take a look at all the junk that came out of your limbo. Are there themes? What are things you honestly believe you can improve on or change? What is just a part of you that you will have to take into consideration when you set your goals?
For some questions to jumpstart your reflection-session, take a look at this post from Marcia Reynolds on the Outsmart You Brain blog. Join me again in the new year to take a look at these reflections and start looking at strategies to build resolve, set intentions and goals, and forge a plan to make them happen.