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For eight straight days now, I’ve stumbled into my kitchen every morning, blurry eyed and exhausted, and gulped down a big glass of tap water. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what victory looks like in my world. Hydrating before turning to my preferred morning drink (18 cups of coffee) is my New Year’s resolution. And for the first time ever, I’m confident I can pull this off for another 357 days.
This simple act of drinking a glass of water – along with a vow to use my electric toothbrush for its full 2-minute cycle and to hold a plank for 120 seconds every single day (though not at the same time!) – is the entirety of my commitments to 2021. That’s it. I have no plans to become a better mother, wife or employee. My abs will not become steel-like in the next 12 months. I have not banned sugar, carbs or clutter. I know better.
“If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that planning ahead is for suckers,” writes Mirel Zaman in Refinery29 as she contemplates the year ahead. It was in that spirit that I created resolutions that are utterly unremarkable in every way except one: They are achievable. And after a year of futility and uncertainty, I’m clinging to what is surefire.
It got me wondering if working in the news business has worn me down, or if I’ve simply accepted what studies have already told us: Most resolutions are doomed to fail unless they’re specific, measurable and realistic. Am I the only one who has drastically lowered the bar?
I checked in with Globe Arts correspondent Marsha Lederman. It was a year ago that she wrote in this space about her lofty plans for 2020, and I was curious if any of her feel-good ambitions were thwarted by our Unprecedented Times. Her summation of 2020 goal achievement: “LOL” and “LOLLLLL.” Still, that hasn’t deterred her from starting January with a new goal, which she describes simply as “make an effort.” She explains: “Instead of hovering around, tidying the room or loading the dishwasher while my kid watches a TV show, I’ll sit down on the couch with him and experience it with him. Play more video games with him. Swordfight when he wants to – with Star Wars-type lightsabers – not real swords!” It also means throwing herself into the things she really wants to do: reading books instead of doomscrolling; making good meals; exercising.
“I find most resolutions too big to be useful and too daunting to be practical,” audience editor Jessie Willms tells me. Instead, this year she’s choosing to continue something she started in 2020, which is to buy no more than five non-essential items new. “There is no need for me, a person with almost unlimited time and energy, to buy something new when Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji and buy-nothing groups are available,” she says. I’m starting to feel bad about my drink-water goal until she adds, “It’s a good goal, I think, because it’s part of my existing dislike of stuff, new stuff, disposable stuff, consumer culture, broadly, and ongoing commitment to be deeply irritating to people around me.” (Note to all resolution-makers: Keep a sense of humour about your goals.)
Editor Madeleine White is veering off course this year with a no-resolutions January. “In some ways, not having any specific measurable goals is a goal in itself for me. It’s an uncomfortable place but it acknowledges the uncertainty of the present and flexibility I’ve needed over the last nine months,” she explains.
Assistant art director Ming Wong is keeping it realistic this year, too. “One of my resolutions is to read 21 books. I know it’s not a particularly high number, but there was a time when I found it hard not to be distracted by my phone in between pages,” she wrote to me in an e-mail, adding, “See this tweet.” Why 21 specifically? For the year 2021, of course. Also on her list – to turn 30 without the usual bout of angst that comes along with it.
Simple acts are the way forward for health reporter Wency Leung. Last year was “a period of getting well-acquainted with feelings of futility and dread. Buying myself flowers may seem frivolous, but I think of it as a small act of resistance. I may be powerless to affect what’s happening in the world outside, but it’s something I can do to make my own little corner more pleasant.”
Maybe the real reason I’m clinging to my resolutions is because I’m hoping they turn into something bigger, something that actually matters. If drinking water can become habit, maybe so can patience. Or mindfulness. Or positivity. As Zaman concludes in her article, “Maybe we can let go of the idea of resolutions altogether, and trust that we’ll be intuitively driven to make the changes that are right for us when it’s time to do so – whether that happens to fall on January 1 or not.”
So I’m going to stick with the planking. I’ll keep the electric toothbrush going for a full two minutes. I’ll drink water. And I’ll see you on the other side of this, whenever that is. I’ll be the one with the super-clean teeth.
What else we’re thinking about:
I spent a lot of time over the holidays catching up on the long-reads I missed throughout the year. One of the stories that stuck with me was Sarah Zhang’s piece on prenatal testing and the implications for children with Down syndrome. It was a beautiful look at the choices we make about who gets born and who doesn’t. You can read it here.
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