Rant 21 January 2005: You say you want a resolution?

First off, if you’re not currently sitting in a place that has been decimated by a giant tidal wave, please consider taking a moment to contribute a little something for people that are.

Canadian Red Cross or International Red Cross | Doctors without Borders
Unicef | Oxfam | CARE

“In health we should continue to be the people we vowed to become when sickness prompted our words.”
—Pliny the Younger (circa 61-113 AD)

I just flew in from Barcelona, and boy are my arms tired. Hyuk.  New Year’s Eve in Barcelona is a riotous event that would be utter drunken anarchy if it weren’t so generally jovial. Eh, what am I saying, it still is utter drunken anarchy. People in Barcelona take their partying extremely seriously. Many bars don’t even open until midnight or later. At 8 am on New Year’s Day, the streets and bars still teemed with people, just like a weekday morning’s rush hour, except these folks were still celebrating from the night before. No doubt, everyone eventually had a sangria hangover to remember.

Contemplating our excesses generally leads to a resolution to improve. Throwing up the previous night’s cerveza invariably leads to some kind of vow never to ingest alcohol again in between lying on the bathroom floor thinking how nice the cold tile feels against one’s face. But memories are short, and often we need to repeat our mistakes several times before we learn from them (luckily, by the way, I learned my lesson quickly as an undergrad after one horrible Jack Daniels incident during which I sincerely wished for death to end my projectile vomiting).

This is, of course, a time of year to make resolutions. And in about two days, the time of year to forget about them.

There are many reasons why resolutions fail. First, they’re often made in a moment of weakness and shame. Like a dog eating grass to settle its stomach by upchucking green stuff all over the rug, resolutions have a sort of cathartic purpose. We’ve just done something awful, or let ourselves go, but now we can make it better. When we’re feeling better, we tend to forget about the drive for redemption. If you want a resolution to work, revisit it frequently in sickness and in health. Also, resolutions based in negative emotions such as shame, guilt, fear, or the like don’t tend to last. Leaders who govern through fear and intimidation are effective in the short term, but in the long term, followers will only take a bullet for a leader that makes them feel good and somehow worthwhile. Lifestyle choices are the same. Don’t focus on what an out of shape piece of crap you are. Focus on how great you’re going to feel once you get and stay in shape. Also focus on what made you feel good about your bad habits, and transfer those good feelings to something more productive.

Second, resolutions are just that: resolutions. They don’t mean anything without a plan. Make a plan and devise a strategy. I mean, I can have the goal of world domination all I want, but until I smite my enemies using some kind of sun-powered death ray beam, how am I going to achieve it? Oh hell, I’ve said too much. Hold still while I zot you. Um, could you move a little to the left? This beam is being a little cranky. Thanks.

Third, making a resolution once a year isn’t frequent enough. I once asked one of my clients, an accountant, whether she’d made any New Year’s resolutions. She didn’t make yearly resolutions, she said, she made quarterly progress assessments. Every quarter, she’d take into account what she’d done, and then make adjustments as necessary. This seemed very sensible to me, but then, sensible is what accountants do best, isn’t it? I’d suggest weekly assessments and review, and then monthly progress records. This sounds overly anal retentive but it could be as simple as taking two minutes once a week to think about how things went that week, and where you might make changes. You might even take thirty seconds to do it once a day. Anticipate problems. You may be gung-ho now, but what about in mid-January? Mid-February? April? November? Think ahead.

Fourth, New Year’s resolutions usually have no accountability. What are you going to do to ensure that you meet your goals? Think about putting something in place to keep yourself honest. Perhaps go in on something with a friend, or make your plan public. Start a notebook or a blog. And check in regularly.

Fifth, make sure your resolutions match your personality. This article from the Physician and Sportsmedicine suggests that activity should be tailored to invididual needs and personality traits. If fitness is your goal, you don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. If long hours of hamstering on a treadmill bore you, then find another activity! Everything from archery to, umm… something starting with “z” is available to you. And if you’re really not a morning person, don’t bother to book in that 5 am run. You might find my article on goal setting useful.