I’ve been making the same New Year’s resolutions since I was 11: be nicer, get organized and lose weight. And although I still have friends who speak to me, can easily locate 1,392 pencils in my office without searching and am not yet being hauled around by a winch, I haven’t exactly exceeded my expectations.
In the spirit of new beginnings, and yet aware that, if certain fringe groups are correct, the world will end before I pay off my 2011 Visa bills, I’d like to propose a new vision for New Year’s resolutions: Resolve to keep doing precisely what you’re doing.
Doesn’t that immediately lower your heart rate, improve your breathing and permit you to unclench those pretty fists?
The only way you’ll need to tweak your life is to do the really rotten stuff slightly less often and with less enthusiasm. This way, as long as you’re the kind of promise keeper who can get up there and shout to the world, “I will attempt not to get significantly, disastrously, monstrously worse!” you actually have a shot at achieving your goals.
In terms of niceness, you should start with small resolutions, such as, “I promise not to spend as much of my time trying to guess other women’s weight and dress sizes as if they were livestock and I were at a state fair trying to win a prize.” This daily practice of niceness would help you become far less likely to comment, “Lois! Three months pregnant or going heavy on the gravy?” when you meet acquaintances.
In terms of getting organized, you could concede that closets are not for storing things, but for hiding things. Just ask your gay friends: The expression “coming out of the closet” did not originate from the idea that people with same-sex preference were tidy, but that they were invisible. Stop attempting to group together items by color, size or expiration date. Admit that, for reasons not even your therapist could explain, you can’t bear to throw away the souvenir shot glass you bought in Niagara Falls. Shove it on the back shelf and put something bulky in front of it. Can’t find it? Good for you!
In terms of losing weight, just give up. Stop torturing yourself already. If you’re over 35, nobody is looking at you anyhow. Face it: everybody is looking at beautiful 20-year-olds, male and female. They’re like gazelles on an “Animal Planet” documentary. They run, lithe and light-footed, across the boundless territory just the way you once did, until they mate, whereupon they become part of a pack. Then the males gather at the watering hole and the females try to guess each other’s weight.
Reassure yourself by repeating this mantra, “Retaining water only matters if you are a boat.” (Not built like a boat, but an actual boat). If you spend time scanning your body for flaws the way a proofreader scans a legal document for errors, just stop.
If you are the kind of person who has ever said to anyone, “Does this barrette make my head look fat?” resist the urge to reveal your innermost thoughts at that particular moment.
It’s taken 60 years of the women’s movement to get us to where we can work at our own jobs, earn our own money and exert sufficient financial independence — even at 71 cents earned to every man’s dollar — to purchase that hair accessory without asking someone’s permission. To wield it as an implement of whining self-sabotage would make a suffragette weep. Either that or she’d put your eye out with it; they were tough broads.
Look, we all know that what keeps us from getting what we want in life is the story we tell ourselves about why we can’t have it. So let’s make 2012 a year of new stories. Tell yourself that you can get better by not getting worse. And tell yourself how you can start. This is far easier, and will be more rewarding by year’s end, than expecting to live each day off of 400 calories or $11 or only kind words. Because there’s no worse way to begin a new year than to fail within its first 24 hours. For luck, stay away from women wielding barrettes.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant. She can be reached through her website.