As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about words. In January, words like "resolution" and "willpower" fly thick and fast around the media, the internet, and the mouths of change-minded individuals hoping to experience outcomes in 2013 that are different from (and better than) those of prior years.
In particular, the words "resolution" and "willpower" bug me. "Resolution" has come to mean "a thing you talk about at midnight on December 31 and have completely given up on by the end of February." As always, the gym is packed for a couple of weeks in January. Years ago I became a lifetime member of Weight Watchers by attaining and maintaining my goal weight. I admit it, I started in January, along with 40 or so other people. By April, I had reached my goal and the number of people at the meeting had dropped to around 25. Shortly after that (probably early summer of that year) I became the receptionist at my meeting. By late December, our meeting had dwindled in size to a scant dozen consistent attendees. But that first meeting in January brought 40 or more people through the door. And the pattern repeated every year for as long as I worked that meeting. Companies like Weight Watchers can forecast a massive jump in their revenue in January. They are rarely wrong.
So we make "resolutions", and the pattern is consistent. Sure, you can be the exception -- I was, and the 12 people who were left at my meeting in December were. But over time, I think the whole concept of "resolution" has become part of the problem, riddled with unspoken connotations of failure.
The word "willpower" is just as bad. It's a great word on the surface, evoking notions of heroic determination and focus. But it, too, has become entangled in connotations. Willpower is the thing you invoke to endure suffering. It involves dragging yourself out of bed to go to the gym and grimly staring down a chocolate cake. Willpower is the thing you employ "no matter how much it hurts."
Why is it that resolutions require all this pain and agony? It's like Lent, only worse -- a post-celebration slog of self-denial and punishment, as though we need to pay a penance for living our lives in joy.
So how could we do it differently? In my case, the long-ago lessons of Weight Watchers are still valuable. Sometimes you mess up, and there's no point in dwelling on that. That was yesterday. What are you going to do today? I have some weight I need to lose as a result of choices I made last year that weren't good for my body, as well as some circumstances that were honestly beyond my control (recovering from oral surgery left me unable to chew a lot of "healthy" foods properly, and left me too knackered by pain and exhaustion to get much exercise for a couple of months). But rather than make a "New Year's Resolution" to lose weight, I'm simply making some different choices.
My intention for the first several months of the year is to get back to my goal weight at the rate of about a pound a week. I have good tools to do that (a step-counter I got for Christmas and some easy-to-use iPhone apps), and I have clarity in my intention, both in what I want to do and how I want to do it. I know how to do it -- obviously I've done it before -- and I know the reasons why it's important to me. I also know what the rewards are of doing it. I'll feel better, I'll fit back into my favorite clothes, I'll like what I see in the mirror. I'll enjoy the sense of accomplishment of having done this thing that is important to me. And once I'm there, I'll be able to add back a few favorite "treat" foods that I'm choosing to avoid for now in order to realize my intention. Notice that all of my language around this is positive. It's not about denial, or "going on a DIE-t." If anything, I'm going on a LIVE-it! And because of this clarity around what I want and why I want it, I can fulfill my intention with resolve -- meaning when I'm faced with a choice of whether or not to go out for a walk, I can think about all the reasons why I love walking. I'm enjoying the sunshine, encountering birds, squirrels and other local wildlife along the way, and even setting my distance target based on a spot down the road where there is sometimes a friendly horse in the pasture who comes and greets me. My walk is not a chore at all -- in fact, sometimes it's the highlight of my entire day.
And when it's time to stare down the chocolate cake? Well, I'll admit it was tough to say no to the birthday cake that showed up at church last Sunday. But I gave myself permission to say yes, and then chose to say no anyway. I'm pleased and excited about the progress I've already made, and I want to keep the momentum up. No pain, no suffering, no struggle. Just a choice to pass on the cake in favor of holding up my intention.
What are your intentions for 2013? How will you find the resolve to carry them through -- not through suffering or self-denial, but through positive choices?