I’m going to be honest. I never really set out to write about New Year’s Resolutions. I mean, come on, let’s be practical for a second. A Motley Tries piece about New Year’s Resolutions? I know I’m good and all, but setting, failing and reflecting on a year’s worth of promises within the first two weeks of January is infeasible to begin with.
And don’t try to tell me that I could do it retrospectively, because that would only make me look like a lazy quitter who just started typing and didn’t think any of this through and really just wanted to get this piece done so she could get back to sleeping and eating and gaming and whatever else it is I — I mean, ‘she’ does during the Christmas holidays. On the contrary, what you are reading here is the product of a forward-thinking brain, evidenced by the fact that, as you read this, it is more than likely already the middle of January and you have already more than likely asked yourself “to resolve or not to resolve” and you have also already more than likely made up your mind regarding that question, so my toddling along in here preaching about how I tried New Year’s Resolutions and whether or not you should try them too is hardly going to break the glass ceiling.
Much more relevant to this time of year is not resolutions themselves but their offspring: excuses. There’s a distinct pattern to how excuses worm their way into the brain as far as resolutions/promises/commitments go. January 1st is the day of untainted hope and self-belief, otherwise known as the land of ‘I will DO IT’. By January 15th you are, as studies somewhere will probably show, already well under way to becoming the world’s best excuse maker, clocking in an average of three million* excuses a day (*unconfirmed figure).
By this time each year, I, for one, am spitting out excuses faster than Starbucks buys new locations: “It’s too wet!” “It’s too difficult!” “It’s a Sunday!” “I could have died!”
If this phenomenon of finding a reason not to follow through on your well-meaning and likely-to-actually-do-you-some-good resolutions had a name, I suppose it would be ‘the Law of the Anti-Nike’ and read something like: “If there is a way to just not do it, then that way shall be found”. Despite its obvious catchiness, the name has, as of yet, to be used by anyone but yours truly.
Seriously, though, the pull to just-not-do-it is a very real and very problematic side-effect of resolutions at large, especially if you’re a third-year philosophy student who gets a kick out of successfully refuting her past assumptions (“Early-morning joy?” I cackle, still in bed at 2pm). You start to convince yourself that a successful validation of why it is you can’t just get up and do something is a success in and of itself, and pretty soon that faux-feeling of triumph replaces the actual feeling of achievement you might have acquired, and you convince yourself that the former is as good as — if not somehow better — than the latter.
The trouble, of course, is that it’s not, and replacing actual exercise with twenty minutes of sitting down to play Wii Sports, for example (a Genuine Gemma Activity™ by the way) is a pretty detrimental thing in the long term. The buzz you get from evading commitment dies a swift death not long after you’ve won it, but the realisation that you’ve achieved nothing of value (yet again, if this realisation is an old favourite for December 31st) has a much longer, much less pleasant aftertaste.
Going forward, if you recognise that you’re a chronic excuse maker, what do you do about it? I’m anything but over my inexcusable tendencies (as the flimsy start to this piece demonstrates nicely) but I’ve started trying to combat them by asking myself why it is that I am caught in this incessant, yearly loop of justifying failures, instead of one of honest reflection on my shortcomings (or, better yet, success). I’m starting to wonder now if I just set resolutions because I like the fantasy of control that they bring — the idea that I can fill all those empty days with an ideal vision of my life, a world where I eat better and exercise more and write books and see the world and do everything I have ever wanted, because it’s the new year and anything is possible. But, the truth is, an empty resolution is something of an excuse in and of itself, isn’t it? Just a punitive demonstration of a punitive intention, which you flash around for two weeks at the start of the year to feel good about yourself, then discard. With all that in mind, I won’t resolve this year to have no more self-serving arguments in my life. I don’t promise an end to “it’s Sunday”, or spiteful sleep-ins, or half-assed half-hours on Wii Sports. In fact, I’m not resolving anything—the reasoning behind which, if you’ve been paying attention, probably amounts to an excuse anyway.