It’s New Year’s Day, and let’s face it: Already some people who just finished their list of resolutions Saturday afternoon have broken some (and maybe a commandment or two) even before the giant tortilla chip dropped into the dip in Tempe last night.
Everybody’s human, of course, but most New Year’s resolutions are odds-on favorites to fail for a number of reasons.
They are a by-product of Western civilization, which is based on generally linear thinking: Do this-and-such today and as a result, that-and-such should happen tomorrow, which isn’t always so.
We name the first month of the year after the Roman god Janus, who had two faces, one looking back and one looking forward. And more recently we have been depicting the ending year as an old man with a long beard and the incoming year as a top-hatted baby in a diaper (which if he were a true newborn, he would be unable to walk upright or keep that hat on his head, another good sign that honesty is not a likely survivor of New Year’s Day).
Of course, during its other 363 days (it’s leap year in 2012, so, 364) our new year goes into childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, mature adulthood, and whatever people call the last 10 to 20 years of their lives. (No matter what you call this period, someone of that age doesn’t like that term, so I’m not going to try.)
We don’t spend time looking at the year in any of those ways, however. We deal with the old man and the infant for a couple of days and toss them both aside for the rest of the year when we’re doing nearly all of our living.
And perhaps that’s one reason why resolutions hardly ever come true: We tend to make them once a year even though our lives need far more attention than the amount of time it takes to annually replace the 9-volt batteries in our home smoke alarms. (Oops, some of us don’t even do that, do we?)
Maybe checking into how we’re living our lives more frequently — that is, when the New Year is heading into junior high school, graduating from college, having a first child of his own and so on — might offer a better chance of success for the promises we make today.
We can start with, well, the way we resolve.
Most resolutions fall into two categories: Darn-near-impossible (“lose 75 pounds by Groundhog Day”) or falling-off-a-log, with Johnny Carson once providing the perfect example by vowing never to “take my dog’s temperature in church.”
There’s also the more-entertaining third kind, called false premise: “I will tell Angelina to stop leaving me messages about when Brad’s going to be out of town.” “In gratitude, I will donate half of all the bagfuls of cash I keep winning at the casino to charity.” “It’s going to be tough to resist the temptation, but that’s it: I will not buy a Jaguar this year.”
Another reason resolutions fail is that they are so public. They come at the time of year when they are generally expected to be made, so they become a topic of conversation (at New Year’s Eve parties, for example): “So, make any resolutions?”
It’s brave, not to mention honest, to say no, but that’s not how to make stimulating party conversation. So, we either make actual resolutions or lie creatively (there’s that false premise again). In either case, we’re out there with our promises displayed for all to see. Luckily, within a week or so everybody, including us, forgets about these pledges and they fade into Janus’ retreating gaze.
So they keep being made, and then are seldom kept. In our mutual defense, it’s hard to reorder your life while standing in the center ring with a spotlight on you while the calliope plays circus music.
Me? I’m going to try to quietly make a few resolutions around April 1, while everyone else at the office is trying to play practical jokes on each other.
I’ll check in on them around July 4, to see if I’ve truly declared independence from some bad habits. If I’m doing well meeting those obligations, maybe I’ll come up with a few more and check in again around Labor Day.
Or, instead, this morning I’ll just vow to be strong and tell Angelina to leave me alone.