I have to confess, I’m not ready for the New Year.
I feel as though I’m still stuck in the dying days of 2017, trying to recapture my equilibrium and sense of purpose. The fact that it’s January 1, 2018, and that the holidays are (for most people) over, is not sitting well with me.
I’ve spent the past two weeks doing as little as possible. Not because I’m lazy. And it’s ridiculous that I even have to say that, but as Esmé Weijung Wang writes,
“In a society that holds productivity as unequivocally good, to do less feels like a moral failing.”
No, I’ve been doing very little in an attempt to recover from a deep depression, a last-minute large editing project, having my mother-in-law living with us, a cancer scare with one of our dogs (thank goodness the growth was benign!)…basically, life, in all it’s varied and troubling incarnations.
I don’t feel I’ve recovered enough to tackle the world head on as most people are eagerly talking about after the holiday break. I still need time, to rest and recuperate and find out what it is I’m meant to be doing, not just what I’m making myself do.
And New Year’s resolutions are the worst part of the whole thing.
As David DeSteno writes in the New York Times, resolutions are good, but we can’t achieve them based on willpower alone, which is stressful and can end up making us feel miserable. Willpower is a finite resource that, once used, takes a while to charge up again. I can attest to this, having used willpower to get myself out of bed every morning for most of November and December. I’m still trying to recharge that “willpower well.”
No, DeSteno writes that we need to use our “social emotions,” by which he means gratitude and compassion, among others. So if you want to stick to your resolution to go to the gym regularly, tap into your feelings of pride. As DeSteno writes,
“Making people feel proud — not arrogant, but proud of the skills they have — makes them more willing to wait for future rewards.”
Yes, like that increased strength and decreased body mass a few months down the line.
In The Paris Review, John Kaag and Skye C. Cleary give us helpful tips on resolutions from Søren Kierkegaard and Friederich Nietzsche.
Kierkegaard, they suggest, would be all in favour of resolutions.
“Without commitments, we risk disappearing into the existential abyss. A life that lacks purpose creates anxiety. A meaningful life, Kierkegaard suggests, is one in which we actively assert ourselves in order to live more fully,” they write.
But they temper those thoughts with help from Nietzsche, who thought that the difference between humans and animals was that we can make—and keep—promises. If we don’t do so, we risk “descending into an animal-like state.”
However, Nietzsche is all in favour of being realistic about promises—and the fact that you may not be able to keep some of them as things change—and you change—over the time period in which you’re meant to fulfill those promises.
So the two basically advocate for resolutions to guide us on our way, but not slavish adherence to making them happen.
Finally, I read Eve Fairbanks’ article about resolutions in the Washington Post. Her approach hit home with me, as I teeter uncertainly on the brink of the New Year and wonder if I even want to deal with resolutions at all. She writes that we should consider resolutions that make us more human—that aren’t about doing or creating more, but more about being.
“I suddenly realized what I wanted my resolutions to be: less. Less expressing, more listening. Less accomplishing, more meandering. Less doing, more being. Less making, more watching.”
Yes. This is exactly the sort of approach I’ve been thinking about. Concrete resolutions like going to the gym three times a week, or riding my bike four times a week, don’t really fit with my health. My illness requires that I take things day by day and sometimes, if I’m lucky, week by week. Some weeks I can ride my bike every second day. Some weeks I have to stay in bed every second day. That’s the nature of the beast.
But instead of beating myself up about it (and not reaching my New Year’s resolutions!), I can think more along Fairbanks’ lines. Of meandering, being, and watching. That is just as important, as I recall from reading Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, a book that is primarily about her watching a wild snail, every day, beside her sick bed.
However you celebrate the New Year, whether it’s a with a new bullet journal and a long list of plans, or a vague idea that somehow, this year, life will just be better somehow, do what works for you. Only you can make yourself a promise that will give your life meaning, but can be adjusted as required according to the vagaries of everyday life. And don’t forget that, sometimes, just being is enough.