I was asked about my New Year’s Resolutions last week. Once you get past giving folks the run-down of your holiday haul and the leftovers are gone, it just seems to be the thing to do. It’s as predictable as Walmart putting out the Valentine’s Day candy on Christmas Eve — and as nauseating.
I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions. I think they are a plague. They are the Black Death, piling up the corpses of dreams and good intentions.
Yes, I intend to explain myself. Hold off on the lynching and hear me out.
The reason I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions is because they are based on lack and insufficiency. They are based on Could, Would, and Should. They are based on what we wish we could be, what we know we should be doing, what we failed to do last year, what we think might be the secret to happiness this year. And, not always but more often than makes me comfortable, I can look at someone’s New Year’s Resolutions and tell you where that person is insecure, feeling unhappy, or being really hard on themselves.
New Year’s Resolutions suck because they are often generated in response to our own self-criticism and everything about ourselves that we would like to fix. Not always — but damn often.
Do your New Year’s Resolutions excite you? Do you make the same resolutions year after year, with the intention that this time you’re really, really, going to get it done? If you didn’t make any resolutions at all, could you sit still and be perfectly content with yourself in this moment?
Look at the word Resolution. Break it down:
RE-SOLUTION: You’re finding another solution to an ongoing problem. Or, if you like the etymological angle, you are seeking to get free of something, breaking it into parts so you can get at the heart of the thing. Or rather, you’re doing that AGAIN because you haven’t succeeded at it yet.
Let’s look at its Latin root, resolvere:
RE-SOLVE: You’re trying to set free, release yourself, find another way through the mess. Or rather, you’re doing that AGAIN because you haven’t succeeded at it yet.
Regardless of which way you want to look at it, New Year’s Resolutions are you telling yourself that you are still held in the clutches of something you want free of, and you are putting your head against the wall and trying again. And again. And again.
Change comes from desire. It comes from seeing where you are now and truly longing to be somewhere else and then having the courage and drive to act on your desire and make it real. If you are resolving to do things you aren’t excited about, you aren’t going to get very far. And it’s damn hard to feel good about things you want when that desire starts from a place of lack and feeling inadequate and insufficient.
Last year, I made a single, solitary resolution. More of a mantra really. It was borne from a realization that this one thing was holding me back from doing everything I dreamed of doing. It was borne from the frustration of beating my head against the wall of change by trying to fix myself in a multitude of ways.
This was my mantra for 2018: Be brave.
And oh boy, did the Universe answer my call. See, being brave is like a muscle. You don’t get to be brave by learning to be fearless. You learn to be brave by being scared out of your fucking mind and learning to face those fears head on and trust yourself.
I’m glad 2018 is done because last year tried to eat my ass. Here’s all the ways 2018 taught me to be brave:
I suffered from a blood clot and pulmonary embolism in January that almost killed me and landed me in the hospital for a week. Once I realized my out-of-pocket deductible was met for the entire year, I didn’t have the excuse anymore to put off needed self-care, so I decided I was going to take advantage of it and started seeing a therapist, every week, starting in February (and let me tell you, facing your own baggage and unloading that train is the hardest and scariest thing you will ever do). Starting therapy was followed by a cancer scare and rounds and rounds of tests while they tried to figure out if I had something further wrong with me. Meanwhile, my daughter was graduating from high school, I lost my child support since she “aged out” and apparently no longer ate, needed clothing, or cost me anything (in other words, she was my sole responsibility because the divorce decree said her father could stop helping to support her). My father had emergency open heart surgery and could have died. My daughter totaled her car in a bad wreck and could have died, one week before going off to college. Then she went off to college and I got to see just how good a parent I had been. Then I downsized my house, moved, and had to adjust to being on my own for the first time since high school — no kid, no husband, just me.
Throughout all of this, I held a full-time job, volunteered for two organizations, and attended college full-time. I started writing seriously, built my own website, and started a podcast.
2018 hit me like a ton of bricks with everything I was afraid of and DARED ME to stand up and make good on that mantra. I don’t think I could have done it if I had not been utterly committed to wanting to get out of my own way. And I’m not talking about the hundred little things I wish I could change about how I look or how my daily life goes. I’m talking about wanting one thing so badly that I was willing to carry it around like a touchstone in my pocket for the entire year and not give it up.
So, if you’re sick of New Year’s Resolutions or if you just want a different approach, try this for me (or rather, for yourself)…
What is one thing that, if you succeeded at doing it, would make your life look totally different, would make you feel totally different, would make you feel like you owned that life you’re living? Sum it up in just a few words, a touchstone, something that you can come back to every time you are met with the opportunity to make that desire a reality.
Fuck New Year’s Resolutions, y’all — create a 2019 Life Mantra! It’s a building block. It is a spiritual tattoo you are going to give yourself that will forever be part of who you are, a mark of your ongoing commitment to being an absolute badass.
Instead of splitting your energy trying to pursue ten different Coulds, Woulds, and Shoulds at once, just pick one thing and apply it liberally to everything. Like glitter. Or mustard. Or sarcasm. Spread that goal on everything you can, and watch your life transform.
I’ve already set my mantra for 2019 and I already know wonderful things are going to happen. How about we meet here this time next year, I’ll show you mine and you can show me yours, and we’ll drink a toast to not re-solving anything, because we created the life we wanted instead of fixing the life we thought wasn’t good enough.
Here’s to us!