Image from Flickr via Chris Dlugosz
Like many of you, I’ve learned through personal experience that making New Year’s resolutions is idiotic. It’s such a common practice in America, though, that a little discussion may be in order. I have an alternative to suggest.
Yes, we’ve all eaten and drunk our way through December, and now it’s time for remorse, regrouping, and resolutions. We’re going to lose weight, stop smoking, exercise regularly, and learn Spanish or Mandarin, all while cutting down on the cocktails and driving only ten miles over the speed limit. There’s one big flaw in this logic that no one ever mentions, though, and it’s timing. If we were making resolutions on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, our chances of success would skyrocket. Warm weather and blue skies encourage happiness, and happiness encourages success. Trying to improve ourselves in January is just silly. In January, we should be sitting in front of the fire reading books or dozing, like the big mammals we are. Attempting to change ingrained habits when our brains are sluggish and it’s snowing is a setup for abject failure.
My friend Jane has a better idea: Pick a word for the year. This is something you can ruminate on curled under your blankets just before you fall asleep. Turn it over in your mind while stacking firewood. Choosing a word doesn’t go against the seasonal requirements of your inner grizzly.
In my nine years of following this practice, when I open my mind to find a word, the word finds me instead. And won’t go away, even when I want it to. “Surrender” was one from a few years ago that I just hated. I wanted “love” or “kindness,” something overtly positive. But I learned a ton about myself when I asked, in times of confusion or discord during that year, “What would happen if I surrendered?”
Choosing a word gives you something to explore, to look forward to and pay attention to as the weeks roll by. Sometimes you’ll forget your word and need to be reminded. But it’s working on you nonetheless, whether you pay careful attention or not. You’re in a relationship with it that will unfold, as opposed to a resolution, which is more of a chore to be done. It’s a finite idea with no room for movement; it chides you.
Once you and your word have found each other, look up the derivation in a respectable dictionary and learn its origins. Empty is the word that claimed me last week—it’s rooted in the Old English “aemetta,” which means “leisure,” and “mot,” or “meeting.” Don’t you wonder how a leisure meeting turned into something empty?! What I’m most interested in is the Buddhist sense, though, of being empty as a kind of invitation: available to be filled.
Seeing your life as a process, and how it has been affected by just one word, is a kinder and more interesting tack than being disappointed in yourself for not going to the gym enough.
I mean, really.
—This essay originally appeared as a radio reading on Station KVMR in Nevada City, California.