What is worse, someone who thinks New Years resolutions are stupid and refuses to make them, or someone who makes a New Year’s resolution and then makes no effort to keep it? More succinctly, is it better to be a fatalist or a hypocrite? Or is there, as those of you staring at half-full glasses are about to comment on this blog, a third alternative that doesn’t sound so gosh darn negative?
In December of 2009, the youth pastor in the youth group where I volunteer had all of us write a list of “10 Things to do in 2010”. We wrote them out with much thought on paper which we put on our knees with those tiny pencils that only exist in churches so much as there are holes drilled for them in pews. We then ceremoniously sealed them in envelopes and wrote, as instructed by the youth pastor, our home addresses that in one year’s time, when we received these envelopes in the mail, we would be able to look back with pride at our year’s accomplishments. Looking back, I see one oversight with this challenge: we didn’t keep a copy of the list. So a year later when I received an envelope in the mail with my own address in my own handwriting, I did not sit back and reflect upon a year of met goals. It was more like this “Oh wow, I forgot about this letter, and all this stuff I promised I’d do….crap.” I spent a few moments trying to see if there was anything I could accomplish before the year was up. Getting the bumper fixed on my car required an appointment I didn’t want to make and $600 I didn’t want to spend. It was too late to avoid carbs for the year, especially since I’m pretty sure I was actually eating a sandwich while reading the letter. And as for reading all the Harry Potter books, there simply wasn’t sufficient time. It was a sad moment, nothing like the one I’d pictured as I scribbled down these goals a year before.
There are two things I know about self-improvement. The first is that self-improvement is self-realized. Bad habits and practices are not altered by coincidence but by effort. Change is inevitable, attitude optional. The second is that self-improvements occur when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of changing. Until the pain of not having read all the Harry Potter books becomes too much for me to bear, I will never read them. Even though I said I only knew two things about self-improvement, I have just now thought of a third in the midst of writing, and that is that it is more than words. Sometimes, resolutions are nothing more than something to shout above your champagne class (sparkling grape juice for the Protestants) while a ball drops in New York City, and if indeed they are that empty, then why not just drink the champagne and call it a year? If you really want to peruse the limited sphere of what’s in your control and pick out something to do, do better, or stop doing, then your resolution will be seen in time rather than spoken in a moment.
So what is worse, the fatalist or the hypocrite? As anyone with a sense of circular logic can see, this blog is obviously pointing a judgmental finger at both extremes and inviting you, as always, to come to the best of both worlds. Resolve if you wish, but recognize the core principles of change that govern all those who attempt it. Consider which pain you’d prefer, that of changing or not changing but do not deceive yourself into thinking there is a third option with no pain involved. As for the New Year, well, those who are truly resolute need no holiday as a sparkling background for their decision-making, and the New Year has enough promise without us rushing to add our own before the strike of 12. But in this area I am in no position to judge. After all, I resolved to write this blog. But I started January 2nd. That hardly counts 🙂