Jorge said he was not surprised that I wanted to write about New Year’s resolutions after the New Year’s Day holiday has already passed. He thought that I was only doing so to be contrarian. I admitted that attitude might be a small reason to do so, but more to the point was my big beef with “society” at large.
The problem is the general stereotyped attitude regarding New Year’s resolutions. That is, generally we are insincere when we compile our personal lists. We may rightfully write down some goals that we have long wanted to accomplish, but very few of our friends and family expect us to honor them. Worse, we don’t follow through on them, ourselves. By this early time of the year, many people will have already forgotten their resolutions.
Anyone who is a regular gym-goer knows about the new members who appear around the holiday season. They may have received a gift membership to the gym or they may feel a bit guilty about overindulging during Christmas. The new members flood into the gym in late December and early January. After just a couple of weeks, their numbers begin to peter out. Before the arrival of February, most of their shiny, new membership cards are neglected, and never used again. It’s a sad fact of life that a good portion of a gym’s profit margin is enhanced when well-meaning people fail to use their membership cards.
Furthermore, the lack of commitment regarding New Year’s resolutions, shows a deficit of personal integrity. A person should never make promises to anyone, especially oneself, that they cannot honor. I respect someone who does not make New Year’s resolutions, because they are being honest about their intentions.
However, I’m of the school that favors the use of New Year’s resolutions. In my opinion, they are very useful to keep us aligned and focused in positive ways with our lives. I told Jorge that there are a few caveats to consider when I make my resolutions list.
Keep the lists short. Long lists dull a person’s focus. Include only the items that will definitely be honored. Don’t write something down just because it seems like something that should be included. Don’t make resolutions to impress others. Don’t be too broad, the items should be specific. Make two lists.
Right away, Jorge asked, “Why two lists?”
I answered that people are complicated and nuanced. We have a public face and a private face. It is unwise to reveal your private face to anyone except a close friend, domestic partner or spouse.
Jorge asked, “So it’s OK if I say I will lose some weight this year but not tell people about a more personal issue? I told him yes, personal issues should be kept private.
Because Jorge and I share the same body weight issues, we can use them as good examples. When I made out my resolutions list, I did not write down, “Lose some weight.” That’s too vague. I could lose a pound or two and fulfill that promise. I don’t want that result. What I actually wrote down was, “Buy more and eat more fresh foods from the produce section of the supermarket.” In a separate entry, I wrote, “Buy fewer and eat less processed foods.” These are promises that are specific and easy to remember throughout the year.
My pal then asked why I make two lists of New Year’s resolutions.
I said that I learned the hard way that it is wise to keep my own highest priority goals a secret to only myself. I have just a few and they are written down in a private place that only I can reread and review. This is because there are many people in the world who do not want us to succeed. Even among our circle of acquaintences and friends, there are those who become jealous and will find ways to thwart our plans.
Sometimes, even the most innocuous goal, like eating fewer processed food items can be weakened. An acquaintence may wish to try my resolve by buying me a box of doughnuts as a special treat because she is jealous of my goal to lose weight. On a more serious level, it is unwise to reveal an important goal and ones strategy because it is easier for us to unconsciously sabotage our own efforts.
When we announce a goal to others, two things can happen. The first is that we may receive support from our friends. The second is that psychologically, we begin to believe that we have already accomplished that goal, so we mentally relax our efforts. It’s the same reasons why affirmations can be a pitfall. If you say to yourself, “I visualise myself weighing 185-pounds” your mind believes you have already accomplished your goal. You won’t work as hard towards the actual goal. This is a controversial view, but it’s true for me.
Jorge said his mind works the same way. So instead of saying that he wants to lose a lot of weight, he’s going to write that he will buy more fresh fruits and vegetables and eat them. As far as specific career goals, he will keep those on a separate list.
I said that is what I advise, but he should only follow his own judgement. I think it is good advice, though. I once had a copy of a World War Two poster on my bedroom wall that said, “Loose Lips Sink Ships”. Giving away your goal strengthens the motivation of your adversary and relaxes your own resolve. I wish I could find that old poster.
There is an important exception. That is, one trustworthy person needs to know about both lists. She or he will hold you accountable. This person will hold your goals confidentially, but will remind you when you slip up. This friend will not let you slack off. Hopefully, you will act in the same way towards her or him. Again, keep the lists short and sweet so you can remember your goals and stay focused.
Now, Jorge and I have our own short, private lists. We’re not letting on to anyone else their contents. We’re also going to be supportive towards each other about the specifics of those lists.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes what the philosopher Julian Baggini said about the subject. “‘That which does not kill me makes me stronger’ is not a law of the universe. What it can be, if we so choose, is a resolution.”