I’m not a fan of the New Year’s resolution phenomenon. I do think it’s got some good or at least non-insidious applications — I’m in favor of periodic reevaluation of whether you like your life and how you might like it better, and I’m in favor of small achievable goals (a friend vowed, for instance, that she would do one pull-up this year, which I think is terrific). And I empathize with the desire to do them right now, not in my case because it’s the first of the year but because I just got off of a pretty long vacation, which made me think about how I spend my time. I have things I’m planning and things I’d like to change — for instance, I want to learn to crochet, and I really ought to blog more, and the gym has been feeling like a chore lately instead of energizing me and I want to find a new type of exercise that I get something out of. Coming back to work has made these thoughts about my daily routine more immediate and important. I get that, and in that sense I approve of resolutions in theory.
But I don’t like how they’re marketed, and in fact I think they’re packaged for failure. Keying them to the beginning of the year, with its clean-slate implications, essentially imparts the sense that this is a chance to shed your sins and diet and exercise your way into purity and virtue. New Year’s resolutions are about abjecting your “former self,” condemning her as someone in need of scourging or salvaging. It’s not about contemplation of your life and your pastimes, but about making a grand statement of conversion — “last year I was bad, but this year I’ll be better.” This generally peters out quickly, like any other grand personal narrative with nothing backing it up, leaving people feeling stuck with the “old self” they now see as a failure (Miss Conduct has more on this).
So as an alternative, let me ask you this, Shapelings: what did you already do in the last year that made you healthier, stronger, happier, better-adjusted? It can be something as big as discovering (or rediscovering) that exercise can be fun, or as small as adjusting your office chair for better support. Tell us what you did in 2008 to make the self with which you enter 2009 who she is today. Did you get fitted for a bra? Start taking vitamins or drinking red wine? Make time for yourself? Learn a new language or skill?
Nothing’s keeping you from continuing to grow in 2009, or even from setting new goals and making new plans at the beginning of the year. But please don’t forget that 2008-you was pretty great too.