Making Reasonable Resolutions
I have a new theory about New Year’s resolutions: They need to be fun.
A few years ago, in an attempt to make a resolution I’d actually remember enough to stick to, I vowed to start leaving parties at Peak Fun. That light bulb went off during a particularly great New Year’s party: “This is the most fun we’re all likely to have,” I thought as glasses clinked and people embraced and laughter rippled through the room.
As resolutions go it was wildly successful, and I extended it to other gatherings: drinks with friends, family visits, concerts. It ushered in a new phase of my life, one where I more regularly made it out to see friends — and was propelled home only by Good Feelings, and before drinking the Bad Idea glass of wine. And early enough to get a decent night’s sleep.
Last week I read this post on the subject of New Year’s resolutions. It advocates using the “S.M.A.R.T.” method from project management lingo. If you haven’t heard of S.M.A.R.T. before, it’s about goal-setting that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. To that, I’d add one more variable: FUN.
Here is the basic problem with Resolutions: they are made at a depressing time of year (Winter) on one of the most depressing days of the year (January 1st) a/k/a the worst Sunday night of all Sunday nights.
Let’s face it, we don’t keep resolutions because they’re rarely fun enough to stick to. We are simple creatures. We are parents, and now we have demands on our time we never had before. If we’re going to follow through on something there need to be rewards built-in.
Incidentally, what got me started on this was my friend Liz telling me on New Year’s that her only resolution was “to have more fun.” She gets it; she’s got three children.
Consider our exercise resolutions. We make them with positive intentions, knowing exercise will make us feel good and possibly even look good. But then for some reason we add in a layer of punishment — to make the goal ‘Measurable’ I guess. Foolishly, we decide somehow that feeling better and having more energy isn’t resolution-like enough, and so intensify it from “I Will Feel Better” to “I Will Get Fit and Fit Into Pre-Parenthood Pants.”
So this year I vowed to make reasonable resolutions.
That is, achievable given my various limitations — time, money, child care. And yes, measurable. They are specific in that I’ve avoided vagaries like ‘eat better.’ They are time-bound in that I’ve decided I should see clear progress by Feb 1st. The are humblingly realistic compared to resolutions I made in my twenties — and they are intrinsically fun.
As I was making these, if any element of non-fun tried to sneak into my resolution-making, I banished it. Here they are:
1. I will go ice skating once a week.
2. I will eat a raw vegetable every day.
3. I will track my spending.
4. I will get up from my desk every day at noon and go for a walk outside
The only impediment to #1 is discovering that the second-hand ice skates I bought last year are two left skates, but I’m super-motivated because I love Nathan Phillips Square. I’m tracking my raw-vegetable-eating by drawing a carrot on the calendar every day that I do.
Tracking spending sounds totally un-fun, right? But I found an app where I love both the aesthetic and functionality — and I get to choose my own icons for different categories. For some reason, it makes me stick with it. #4 is hardest.
I surveyed a few friends about their resolutions, and their answers were interesting. Mita who writes Bunch’s Activity Book column confessed that her resolution is to read, even just a page, every single day:
Even though I’m a librarian and I do read, until recently I would read the way other people watch TV series. I would binge over a weekend or a late night, and then need time to recover.
Then I realized that every day, without fail, I manage to read to my kids. Mainly it’s because my kids refuse to sleep without some bedtime reading. But it’s also because of a strange parenting thing, where doing something that’s enjoyable and good for little ones becomes a habit — and yet we forget that parents need stories and joy too. It’s perplexing.
See: FUN. It’s something we know how to do for our kids, and forget to do for ourselves. My friend Magali talked about why resolutions have tripped her up in the past:
I too have avoided making resolutions because so many times it has set me up for failure. If I feel motivated to resolve anything, I keep it under wraps. I do the magical thinking thing, and don’t tell anybody and then I forget about it.
There are no 6 month progress reports or benchmarks. If there were social pressure to report back on my resolution, maybe that would sharpen my resolve. But I like your pleasure thesis better.
I have one resolution for 2014 — Get outside more with Esmé. This accomplishes a few things:
1. It satisfies my belief that children should be outdoors most of the time because it is healthy.
2. I get exercise too. I tend to do physical activity because it is convenient. I exercise because it gets me somewhere, Esmé needs a nap and a stroll will accomplish this or I am playing a sport or game that is fun.
3. Being in nature makes me happy and I think that it is good for the souls of little people too to get up and personal with a blade of grass.
This resolution speaks to my values as a parent, my ‘workaround’ for a lack of self-discipline, and the pleasure I get from the activity.