I have a sealed envelope carefully tucked away in the top drawer of my night table. It says: “from Daisy Goldstein, January 1, 2006, to Daisy Goldstein, January 1, 2007.” Inside that envelope is a detailed list of my New Year’s resolutions—my tangible goals for the year to come embodying all my hopes and dreams. Inside that envelope is the elaborate roadmap to my ever-elusive happiness.
No pressure though.
My friend Eva and I have a long-standing New Year’s tradition—over stiff drinks, we carefully open our envelopes, read our lists to each other and lament the fact that nothing much has changed over the course of the year. We proceed to write our new and improved lists, certain that this year will be different. “This year,” I promise myself, “I will make a real effort to get into shape and to spend more time with my family. I’ll pay all my debts and finally finish writing that script that I’ve been putting off for the past eight years.”
We see the New Year as our big chance to wipe the slate clean. The excess of festive food and alcohol has once again taken its toll on our health, and an overdose of Boxing Day bargain-hunting has left our bank accounts dry. We need to make changes to feel that our lives have purpose, yet despite our best intentions, our own weaknesses usually catch up with us—in this war we wage on our own shortcomings, we tend to be our own worst enemy.
But all is not lost. I recently discovered an article posted on ehow.com explaining how we can successfully keep our resolutions:
“STEP 1: Aim low…if you set the bar too high, you’re doomed from the start.”
So I guess I need to lower my expectations just a bit. Last year’s Resolution #6: “Completely miss winter in Montreal by going on a long trip to Africa, Southeast Asia or South America” didn’t exactly pan out the way I had hoped. But Resolution #7: “ride my bike more” did. So, while I didn’t drink mojitos on the white sandy beaches of Isla Mujeres, I did get many chances to order the Ladies Night “Dos Tacos Per Uno” special at Carlos and Pepe’s before taking the scenic route back to Mile-End.
STEP 2: Don’t overload yourself. Choose the most pressing issue at hand—losing weight, finding a girlfriend—and concentrate on that. Trying to do everything simultaneously practically guarantees failure across the board.
This is good advice. Setting too many goals at once can be overwhelming and mean that you end up accomplishing nothing. It’s like going Christmas shopping and being so frustrated with the checkout line that you fling all your presents into the sale bin next to the cash and just take off. Chances are that if you lose weight, you’ll feel more confident and you might have more luck finding a girlfriend. (At least that seems like it would work, right?)
STEP 3: Tell everyone you know. One school of thought says that New Year’s resolutions are best kept to oneself, but look at it this way: the more people to whom you announce your resolution (say, to get out of your dead-end job by spring), the more people there’ll be to prod you along if you fall behind.
I’m not sure I agree with this tactic. I’ve done this many times, hoping that the embarassement of failure would give me a much-needed push in the right direction. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I made a sweeping declation to my coworkers: Following in the footsteps of Oprah Winfrey and her health gurus who wrote the bestseller “You On A Diet”, I publicly declared that I was off enriched flour and sugar forever. For one week, I resisted the tempting suggestions of my lunch posse: Thai Express on Monday, Copoli burgers on Tuesday, Amir on Wednesday…Day after day, I stuck to my salads and grilled chicken and couldn’t help but feel a slight hint of superiority as I watched my coworkers stuff their faces with carbs and trans fats. But as it got closer to Christmas, my will of steel slowly turned to Jell-O. I finally cracked under the pressure. When I did, I felt all eyes on me, judging me as that chocolate truffle caressed my sugar-starved palette. Living with guilt and humiliation was too much; Im still struggling to keep my big mouth shut—in more ways than one.
STEP 4: Reward yourself. Following through on a New Year’s resolution is rarely easy, so a little Pavlovian conditioning goes a long way.
I love rewards. If I accomplish Resolution #1: Get into Shape, I think I’ll reward myself by buying that great pair of shoes I’ve been eyeing. Oh, I guess that compromises Resolution #3: Completely pay off my debts. Damn! This year is not starting off well at all.
STEP 5: Wait until spring. Sometimes the best way to accomplish a New Year’s resolution is to make it at a time of year of your choosing, rather than the one dictated by the calendar.
This is my favorite step of all. It takes so much energy during the winter months to even get out of bed, let alone make life-changing decisions. Unless you decide to move to a less frosty climate, there’s no point in doing anything other than rent movies and order take-out.
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If New Year’s Resolutions do nothing else, they remind us of our need to strive towards our goals. As Rocky Balboa declared to his screaming Russian fans after defeating the barbaric Drago in Rocky IV: “If you can change, and I can change, everybody can change!” Too bad Sly Stallone didn’t heed his own advice—his #1 New Year’s Resolution should be: No more Rocky sequels, for the Love of God. That said, lets give Balboa this: maybe he doesn't always achieve his goals, but at least he always puts up a good fight.