By the time you read this, it seems there's a good chance you've already given up on your New Year's resolutions.
There are no hard and fast statistics (how would they gather them?), but anecdotally it sounds like most people have thrown in the (gym) towel on their solemn vows of self-improvement by the end of the first week of January.
This leads me to wonder if this week should be made an ancillary holiday, subsidiary to New Year’s Day. Call it Resolution Abandonment Week (RAW). Celebrated by sitting on the couch in your sweatpants (because you were thinking of going to the gym later), scarfing pizza washed down with plonk, binge-watching TV, then climbing into bed with a groan and taking a nap.
But that needn’t mean you should feel like a failure – a little failure isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. You can learn from it. Random example: Leonardo da Vinci was pretty much a failure – his projects were too ambitious and he couldn’t finish them – until he finally settled down and painted The Last Supper at age 46.
A lot of people we think of as successful had to pick themselves up and dust themselves off more than once before getting to where they wound up later. There’s even a mini-fashion among hotshot celebs these days to give commencement speeches all about how they “failed as much as they succeeded.”
It’s a little annoying – both Oprah Winfrey and J.K. Rowling have done these, and they’re billionaires – but also instructive, I think. A hotshot journalist gave one of these types of speeches at my commencement, and I recall the callow youth David Eddie scratching his peach-fuzzy chin and thinking, “Could it be my whole life will not be spent pirouetting from one success to the next?”
With all that in mind, I would like to advance a modest proposal – that we take advantage of the fact it’s not only a new year but also a new decade, and along with all the regular New Year’s resolutions enact at least one New Decade resolution.
We call them resolutions, but what they really are is goals. And it strikes me that the reason so many New Year’s resolutions fail is they’re all basically “effective immediately,” i.e. as of Jan 1. “Effective immediately, I will quit smoking, eat better, lose weight, be more positive, go to the gym.” (Never mind the gym is probably closed New Year’s Day.)
But old habits don’t die like that, do they, without a fight? No way. Old habits go down swinging. Old habits are like Rocky Balboa, training and doing push-ups and eating raw eggs while you nap/watch TV/yak on the phone.
But if you allow yourself 10 years to spar with them (to continue the pugilistic metaphors), it’s much more manageable.
Say, for example, you wanted to lose 100 pounds – that’s just 10 pounds a year! Surely that is an achievable goal for most of us?
Might I further suggest that a good New Decade resolution might be not only to shed bad habits and excess pounds, but also to get really good at one thing? In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell, citing Bill Gates, the Beatles among others, speaks of how it takes about 10,000 hours to get really good at something – which, practically speaking, tends to boil down to about a decade of assiduous practice.
Now you may be saying to yourself, “That ship has sailed! I’m too old! I don’t have a decade to fool around getting good at something and/or lose 100 pounds.”
Maybe. But the important thing, in my humble estimation, is the striving.
It’s a complicated metaphor, so bear with me, but I liken growing older to climbing up a staircase that’s on a platform that has wheels and is rolling downhill. We all know the ultimate destination of the wheeled platform. But it’s important to keep climbing those stairs.
It builds metaphorical muscle. And when you’re really trying at something, I’ve found, the universe – or maybe I should just say “the people around you” – will help you out.
Keep striving. Keep trying. If you fail, in the words of Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail better.”
Who knows? With all this trying and failing, you might wind up succeeding. If not, well, when you’re attempting to enact a 10-year plan, there’s always another year right around the corner.
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