Week #13 – RESOLUTIONS
Hallelujah, the tree is down, and I am done with Christmas. Thanks to a particularly dry Noble Fir-turned-to-kindling, my family gave me their reluctant approval to kick it to the curb a full week early, so that by 10 a.m. on Boxing Day it was in the bin, the ornaments packed away, and the needles vacuumed up. Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays: the decorating, the giving, the celebrating. But somewhere around December 23rd –usually when at the mall and standing in line with 25 equally desperate individuals, all of us sweating and forcibly penned in by bins filled with scalp massagers, trios of foot cream, and chocolate covered wasabi — I start to feel nauseous and just want the big day to be over. Consumerism always gets the better of me. I start out strong with a list and a budget, and by the end of the run, I’m second-guessing my decision to disregard the wishes of my children and considering slipping a Coachella weekend and 60” gaming monitor into their stockings. Getting rid of the Christmas tree is my palette cleanser, my re-boot button, my much-needed slap in the face. But that’s not all. Ditching our evergreen also signifies that December is nearly over and that once again, thankfully, it is time to consider my New Year’s resolutions.
The truth is, I’m actually a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to resolutions. I can’t remember a year when I did not resolve to do or not do something. And while the naysayers and poo-pooers will argue that resolutions simply set you up to fail, I would counter that success really isn’t the point, that the creation and evolution of a resolution is potentially more life-changing than the resolution itself. Hear me out.
When I started writing down my resolutions in my twenties, they usually focused on an area where I wanted to see a transformation take place. They went something like this: Quit Smoking, Improve Diet, Save Money –big, general, lofty goals that made me feel good about myself by making me think I wanted to make improvements, but, because of their generality and complete lack of strategy, pretty much guaranteed that in no way I would be giving up the ciggies, or pints of ice cream, or that amazing pair of shoes on sale at Bergdorf’s. I just wasn’t serious enough. So I failed. Again and again. Then one year, after taking up running and realizing that a cigarette post 10K slog might not be the best pairing, I wrote, I will not hold a cigarette in my hand. Being the addict I was, I knew that if I held one, I would smoke it. That in order to really give up the habit, I had to be wickedly precise with my intention. And, guess what? It worked. The specificity and visualization of not touching a cigarette signaled to my brain that I wasn’t messing around. That I would no longer be a smoker. Resolve replaced ambiguity, and I have not touched or smoked a cigarette since.
That one accomplishment, though I’d written lists of resolutions, led me to believe that specificity was the key to these annual declarations. And so I practiced making more detailed statements. But here’s what I learned . . . resolutions are unique, fickle, and slippery in your hands. Just when you think you’ve nabbed one, it gets away. And even when you believe you finally know what you want, it turns out that you don’t. For example, twelve years ago my husband and I bought our first house. This was 2005 and there was nothing on the market in LA. With a newborn and three-year-old we settled on a 90-year old fixer in a transitional neighborhood thinking we would renovate while living in it, and flip it within a year or two (oh, so, naïve). For the next six years, we repaired plumbing, sewer lines, and electrical issues –problems in our walls and attic and under the ground. Nothing that visibly improved our quality of life. Every New Year’s I would write the resolution, Finish the House. I was sick and tired of renovating and I wanted it to be done. But try as I might, the Gods, stars, our bank account, said, no. So a couple years ago, quite spontaneously, I tried a new strategy. I attached a feeling to my resolution. Instead of wishing to finish the house (because, honestly, is a house ever done?), I wrote a few sentences about how I wanted to feel when I was in my house. I folded up the paper and put it in a journal and forgot about it. Until a couple of months ago when I found my resolution and, hello, discovered that all those feelings I’d written down were now present every time I walked through the door. It hadn’t been enough for me to simply wish for the house to be done, I had to know and articulate why before it would happen.
Now, I’m not so gullible as to believe that the often long process of landing on a resolution negates all the hard work required to see it through. Change is hard. Years ago, before Amazon and Netflix, I resolved to forego TV for 365 days, my motivation for which I can’t quite recall. I do remember how excited I was in making the resolution, the nervous butterflies of anticipation I felt at the beginning of my stunt, followed by the deep regret a week later, and subsequent anger that settled in for several months following. The discomfort of something new and unfamiliar shook up everything inside of me and caused me to, for an entire year, look at, feel, and think about things differently. Which was probably my objective in the first place –to undo a habit that felt repetitive and stifling. Resolutions bubble up in us because we want to do something different. We want to be different. Sometimes they present themselves with crystal clarity and concise action. But most often, certainly in my case, they take excavation, discomfort, and tenacity to get there. But get there we will. And if not this year, then the next. Or the next. Because that process is where the real change, where the real resolve happens. I’m convinced.
It’s two days before the beginning of 2018, and I’m pondering long and hard about my resolutions for the New Year. Instead of wracking my brain, however, I’m searching my heart and feeling my way towards a list. I know it will involve nurturing relationships (both family and friends), that half-marathon I want to run, a greater commitment to my writing, and, of course, money. Always money. Though perhaps this year I’ll resolve to not let the holiday get the better of me. This year, on December 23rd, I will not be at the mall.