Sunday, January 26, 2020

Resolution Rebellion

I refused to make any New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t know if it’s cynicism or laziness, but I just wouldn’t. In my Third Third, I’ve been through 60+ attempts to codify being a Better Barbara. No, 120+ attempts: I have the Jewish New Year, too. And while there’s something gratifying about envisioning ways to be a Better Barbara, this year’s Barbara just rebelled.

Resolutions are the skirmish in my war of “feel like it” versus discipline, my continuing Third Third battle. At first, when I subtracted shoulds from my life – no more waking up to go to work, no more external demands on my time – I unleashed tremendous energy for my wants. But eventually, that tremendous energy faded and to-dos reasserted themselves.

Three years ago, I wrote here that I was excited about my new brand of resolution: baby steps. I was, for example, going to do just 50 sets of squats in the whole year. And it was also here, that I reaffirmed, “if nothing changes, nothing changes.”

So why haven’t I changed? Have I become a stick-in-the-mud in my Third Third, an old fogy? Am I [horrors!] set in my ways???

I can actually think about doing squats – like right now – and not stand up and do them. It’s not that I hate doing squats; it’s not that they’re painful or uncomfortable or even just unpleasant. It’s just that I don’t feel like doing them.

I’d set a Goodreads goal of reading 75 books in 2019. I ended up reading 102. Wow! Hooray! But that’s because reading is a socially acceptable way to do just what I want and dodge shoulds at the same time.

Another resolution – writing thank you notes – actually worked. I designed pretty note cards out of pressed, dried leaves, and I was actually excited to mail them out. Now why did that one work? It combined creativity (the art for the cards was a New Thing) with feeling kind with being do-able. A big win! I’ve pressed more leaves.

Once, Tim and I made resolutions as if it were a year later and we were looking back on the year. So we’d say things like, “It’s 2021, and we’re glad we took a road trip through the South in 2020.” We didn’t look at the resolution as a plan but as an accomplishment. We didn’t have the stress of a to-do but rather the satisfaction of a done. That actually worked, too.

This is what I would like to look back on 2020 and see: that I tackled a big challenge and did it. Not the little challenges of getting a meal on the table or a mile swum. Not even the challenge of arranging another urban infusion month in a big city, but a Big Challenge. Something tough but not too scary; one Chilkoot Trail is enough.

I have to make sure I outfox my grand pianos, the weights that plague me psychologically, so it has to feel rewarding. It has to touch some deeper chord in me, keep me mentally healthy. It has to be a should wrapped in want clothing.

Stop, stop, STOP! It’s a few weeks later and I just re-read that last line. (I also just re-read the Big Challenge I’d set for myself – and deleted it.) Why do I even have a should that has to be disguised to be palatable? Is there some hierarchy of value that puts shoulds at the top? Am I assigning medicine to myself that I have to force myself to take?

I am not a discipline writer; I am a feel-like-writing writer. I am a feel-like-painting painter. I am a feel-like-skiing skier and a feel-like-swimming swimmer. When those activities feel good, I’m happy. But making a disciplined rule or schedule for them just ices my soul.

Yes, I know that sets the stage for ordinary, for failure to master, for no improvement. Chasing whim sets the stage for “flaky.” I once decided that my goal in cross-country skiing was explicitly to remain mediocre, that after a lifetime of aiming for excellence, I wanted one activity that would just stop at mediocre. A friend called it remaining “happy intermediate.”

I think, in my Third Third, Happy Intermediate is a nice goal for a lot of things. So this will have to be my resolution:
    Happy Intermediate is, by definition, happy. Enjoy it.
That’s all.


  1. Not a popular post, I take it. I know I shuddered to reply to it. But let me give my go a say. I did make some 'resolutions' but I made sure they were ones that I had already set on the path to do, before the new year rolled round.

    How am I doing? Better than I've ever done, really, in this business of self-improvement. I didn't ask for me to become 'nicer' or something impossible but instead to amplify things I was happy already doing.

    Maybe that's a cheat on this idea, but I felt it wasn't. Taking on a promise to oneself is tough business, so why not give myself a head start by doing that 'one-day-at-a-time' with things I have already been tucking away?

    Good luck with your approach and I'll ask of you to do the same with mine.

    Oh, and Happy New Year!

  2. I LOVE your method, following the direction you're already taking. That means it has traction. So, yes, I'll continue swimming my mile every other day because that's already working for me. I "should" have just counted it as a resolution. Good luck with yours!


Sharing Button