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New Year, Same Ol' Me

I made a list of resolutions, but I lost it.

(I think "be more organized" was on there somewhere.)

Ha ha!  I kid!  I don't have any resolutions!

(Except "warm up the office" at the moment.  It's freezing in here.)

No, seriously, I don't do resolutions any more.  They just exist as a way to make people feel bad.  Too many people are encouraged to give themselves lofty and unattainable goals, which go out the window in less than a month (or a week, in my case, but I've always been talented), and then everyone experiences the Agony of Defeat, which isn't such a great learning experience as it's touted to be, because we're fed the idea that failing at achieving the impossible means that we'll never good enough, so we may as well give up completely.

This is not a useful lesson.

Useful lessons we could take from failing at lofty goals we don't have a hope of succeeding at:

"I need to be more patient with myself"
"It is okay to be less than perfect"
"Smaller goals are acceptable"
"Beating myself up for failing isn't healthy"
"Cupcakes are awesome, especially if they're frosted"

One must remember that it is only unobtainable resolutions that are not useful - failing at something one is attempting is actually quite useful, but only if you think of it as "being successful at finding what doesn't work", as Christopher Titus puts it.  Don't be afraid of failure.  Or cupcakes. 

(I would also like people to remember that the diet and beauty industry has a vested interest in our failure, and they try to make sure we fail, and feel bad about it, so we keep buying more and more product.) 

And that's why resolutions are generally a bad idea - not only do they guarantee failure (usually; most people don't make reasonable resolutions, such as "I resolve to add 10 minutes of walking to my day at least twice a week, and not beat myself up over the occasional cupcake or three", they make resolutions like "I will exercise for an hour every day!  I will never touch cupcakes again!", which we all know isn't going to happen), they set up the idea that if you can't keep to the resolution, you're a bad, lazy person lacking any semblance of willpower. 

A bad lesson, as it doesn't include any of the good lessons detailed above.

There's a definite puritanical streak that runs through a lot of the resolutions people make; it's all about quitting bad habits and punishing our bodies and minds for being less than perfect.  People rarely make resolutions like "I will give myself a break when something doesn't work out so well".

(The people that really do need to make resolutions for change don't usually make resolutions, since they think they're perfect.  We'll ignore them, even if their hygiene issues make our eyes water a little bit.)

I like failure.  Failure teaches me patience and kindness.  It makes me a better teacher, since it gives me empathy when other people fail.  It allows me to explore the different ways that might seem like a good idea (but aren't), so I can advise against them when other people want to do the same thing.

(If they want to go ahead and do it anyway, that's okay - many things we can only really learn by failing at them ourselves.  I'll still be there when they come back, and I won't say "I told you so".)

(Well, only if they were really obnoxious and smug about it.)

Failure makes us better people - kinder, gentler, more empathetic - but only if we allow failure to do its job, and don't fear it.  I think this is where societal pressure lets us down; American culture lionizes the successful; the first, the best, the thinnest, the prettiest, and the fastest, then mocks the person who comes last.  At the same time, we can't wait to topple the successful, and greedily demand all the details when a cultural icon of achievement is revealed as human.  We demonize failure, and desire it to happen to all the people we envy.  Failure is a punishment for being less than perfect.

This is unhealthy.

Everyone fails - it's part of being alive.  We learn through our mistakes.  Heck, we all start out uninformed, and make error, after error, after complete fuck-up, thereby learning a lot about the world around us.  Fire is hot, our tongues stick to freezing metal, the people we date will let us down, life isn't fair.  We bump our noses on things continually - it's the human condition.  So why are we so unforgiving of mistakes?  We get smug or judgemental about the mistakes of others, and we beat ourselves up (sometimes for years) over our own perceived bone-headedness.

I blame magical thinking.

It's the concept of the Evil Eye - if we're near someone who fails, we might fail too - it's contagious, or at least we act like it is. Superstition dictates that failure is catching, so must be shunned at all costs, as failure is bad.  We treat people who are perceived to fail very badly, as if being nasty is a fingers-crossed charm against anything bad happening to us.  Obviously, it doesn't work, but it's considered acceptable to treat people like they have the plague if they fail.  People go in for victim-blaming in a big way, self-righteously declaring that they will never fail, because they did everything right.  Failure as divine punishment for mysterious sins against a nebulous sky-god who promises us cupcakes if we do exactly what he says.  Speaking of sky-gods, we even institutionalize fear of failure in religion, using it to justify the outrageous treatment handed out to anyone with whom the religion disagrees, with the smarmy claim of "God is punishing you". 

I say embrace failure - learn what it feels like, and learn that no matter how you fail, it's not the end of the world, and you can pick yourself up again.  Feel empathy for people who fail at the things they try for, as it will give you practice for forgiving yourself when you inevitably fail at something.  No-one is perfect, and we all have a learning curve, whether it's building a ship in a bottle or learning how to have a healthy relationship with someone.  Admitting failure will make the world a better place, as we learn how to put ourselves back together again and go on, instead of flailing about in a stew of self-recrimination and disgust.

Resolve to be gentle, with others and with yourself.

(Note:  this kind of failure has nothing to do with wilful laziness, deliberate disfunctionality, or the twisted person you dated that one time.  It's one thing to be kind to someone who fails at the thing they're trying for; it's another thing entirely to be an enabler for someone too arrogant or lazy to work on their character flaws.)

(Second note:  I don't even want to get into the societal treatment of disabled people as "failures", but it is some nasty shit.  Don't buy into it.)


( 22 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
Jan. 4th, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)
The best New Years resolution idea I saw on the web was: "What one simple thing can you take away that is not effective in your life? Then What is one little thing that you can add that will put a smile on your face?"
I liked the idea of resolving to do something to put a smile on my face.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
Well, your nick is kind of a pointer ;)
Jan. 4th, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC)
This year I decided that rather than making negative resolutions about what I won't do anymore I would continue last year's work of setting positive goals for things I want to do that make me happy. Like I want to be able to do more pull ups (last year I went from 0-4) and I want to have more pretty clothes to wear.

After reading your post I think I might also add: "I will stop worrying about things I can't change and making myself upset". :)
Jan. 4th, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
My resolution for this year was to get back to the gym today. And I did. Beyond that, it's lose some more pounds by April. I'd like another 25, but I'd take 10 or even 5, so long as the scale heads downward. As long as I keep strengthening and conditioning, the weight will come off, I'll feel better, which will make me dance better, which will help motivate me to get to the gym ... it all works out in the end.
Jan. 4th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
I have 2 very big goals for this year. The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in May and applying for grad school in the fall.

To meet those goals I will have to work hard and be very organized so the extra work doesn't burn me out. I also have to drop some other hobbies temporarily, but not all of them, because that way the crazy lies.

The tricky part is adjusting when life throws curveballs like health problems and work insanity. The Avon Walk is actually a modification of a more strenuous physical goal. School was supposed to happen this year, but I was my most unhealthy when I needed to be working hardest on my applications.
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
I don't make resolutions - generally speaking, I see people make resolutions with great resolve, but they have meaning for about a month. As you pointed out, many of those are tied to diet - but they're never things like: "I will eat more healthy foods, I might take a fun cooking class or two and I'll buy and eat less processed stuff." Instead they're along the lines of "I will pay $75 a month for a gym membership I'll use five times and then continue to pay for the whole year, while lamenting the fact that I hate walking on a treadmill or climbing a stair-stepper."

I'd love the whole notion of "resolutions" to go right out the window, and for people to honestly just take a little quite time as the year turns to consider what they want to do in the new year, and how to make it happen as best they can.

Resolution should have something to do with reflection, and very little to do with fitting those generic ideals we thing matter in our culture.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, people today know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Jan. 4th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
"I will pay $75 a month for a gym membership I'll use five times and then continue to pay for the whole year, while lamenting the fact that I hate walking on a treadmill or climbing a stair-stepper."

This. I hate exercise for its own sake; I get deathly bored. But I can walk or dance for quite a while. I love (gentle) hiking, and I miss the physicality of fighting, but I hate hate hate treadmill/aerobics-style exercise.
Jan. 4th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
*chuckle. Oh yeah. Preserve me from gym boredom. I love boxing, or dancing. I'll walk on a treadmill when I have to, but I'll go much further outside, on a trail, with the dogs.

Hope you have a good new year.
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
The past two years I've found it quite funny at how full my yoga classes are for the first few weeks after New Years, and then almost suddenly drop down to the usual numbers. Yeesh.
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
My resolution for the year
is a minimum of 72 DPI at all times - but at least 300 DPI for print.
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
Re: My resolution for the year
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:47 pm (UTC)
Re: My resolution for the year
Hee! I love nerd humor. =D
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
Like your post suggests, I generally tend to think that most resolutions are silly, lofty, or unrealistic. I tend to settle for more reasonable goals. Last year, I believe I said something like "I want to eat more vegetables!" I think I did, too. But a goal like that is perfectly attainable. And if one day you don't eat many vegetables... it's okay, since it's a rather vague goal that applies to the year in general.

I've decided to carry over the "eat more vegetables" concept to this year. I've also added "get to know my spouse better", but I believe that will happen naturally the longer we're married anyway.
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
I don't make resolutions...I make plans...Like, I plan to drink more water per day this year. I'd like it to be at least 1 liter, but even if it's just more than 2 glasses of water a day, I'll be happy. Resolutions are made to be broken. Plans are made to be met...
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
I've never mastered resolutions. They always seem to be forgotten the moment they're less convienent(sp). Of course, I made plans in Nov, that I'd attempt to lose just a little bit of weight. But I wasn't gonna diet. Or go hog wild crazy with the exercising. Just walk most days, for a few minutes, cut down the cookies a bit, and haul my brand new baby up and down the stairs at least a million times a day, to change diapers!

It seems that if I tell myself I'm dieting, I cannot resist food. If I'm just deciding to have a cheesestick instead of a piece of candy, that's DIFFERENT. Gotta trick your brain somehow! :)

Totally with you on the no setting myself up to fail thing.
Jan. 4th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
One of my standard pieces of mentoring advice is Give yourself permission to fail. Oh, warn people; renegotiate any commitments you've made/find a substitute/delegate for your responsibilities, but definitely give yourself permission not to be superwoman.
Jan. 5th, 2010 03:42 pm (UTC)
Good advice...we often learn more from our failures than from our successes...
Jan. 4th, 2010 10:23 pm (UTC)
hi, I just surfed over from Shapely Prose - I love this post! It is in fact my New Year's Resolution to stop beating up on myself. So far I'm doing really well at it!
Jan. 7th, 2010 10:52 am (UTC)
Welcome! :)

And keep up the good work!
Jan. 4th, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC)
Why is it folks don't make FUN resolutions?
I don't make New Year's resolutions because I figure that if I want to make a change in my life I can it right then. For instance, my late-November resolution was to make more plans with friends who I haven't gotten to see as much in the past few months (Sheesh. Parents and parents-in-law: you give them one grand child and they want to take over your schedule. ;)

So far, I've succeeded in my resolution twice! I'm looking forward to more successes in the new year.
Jan. 4th, 2010 10:50 pm (UTC)
Last year I resolved to NOT diet, which was really interesting, and much harder than I supposed it would be. But I stuck with it, and learned a LOT.

Somehow, I've managed to stick with some of mine, even if I give myself two years in which to do them. But I haven't done the "lose 30 lbs" one in a LONG time. I guess I consider them more "goals for the year", and I try to make them kind of fun and attainable.
Jan. 5th, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
mmmm cupcakes!
( 22 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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