Everyday Life: No year’s resolutions

I never understood the big deal about New Year’s resolutions. I grew up with two calendars, regular and Jewish. The Jewish calendar has, in some sense, two new year’s days: the calendar one (in the spring) and the liturgical one (in the fall: Rosh Hashanah, literally, the head of the year). With three days claiming to be the start of a year, how could calendar dates seem anything but arbitrary?

And then there’s the question: Why wait? If you want to stop smoking, exercise more, eat less, spend less, eat healthier, go to bed earlier, wake up earlier, give more to charity, not yell at people, calm down, work more, work less, watch less TV, spend less time online, clean your closet, clean your desk, bicycle to work, spend more time with friends and family … why wait until Jan. 1?

There’s the absurdity of the idea of making any kind of resolutions at all. A resolution is distancing: “I am going to …” Which means you’re not actually doing whatever it is you resolve to do, and what’s the point in that?

There’s the narrow focus. “I’m going to lose 20 pounds.” If that’s all you want to do, you have a good chance of doing it, and an even better chance of gaining 30 pounds when you’re done. “I’m going to stick to this diet” works until you get bored or the diet gets burdensome. And the diet will get burdensome, that’s a given.

A story would be good at this point, a wonderful story of true and permanent change. Do you know any? I stopped smoking 45 years ago, I stopped biting my nails 11 years ago, but I’m not dead yet. Who knows what I’ll do tomorrow? “One day at a time,” say the 12 step programs. Let’s make it one minute at a time, one millisecond at a time.

It ain’t over till it’s over, and that’s good news. “Seven times fall down, eight times get up” goes the Korean proverb, and while that drives my mathematical brain nutsola, there’s a lot of good psychology there. The past is the past, the future isn’t here yet, and the present — well, the present is vague and without boundary, impossible to hold onto. How are we to live our lives?

That’s the big question, the question I think New Year’s resolutions come from, a pale shadow of their origin, just as the notion of a boundary in time between one year and the next is a pale shadow of the reality that every moment is a chance for hope and change.

So here’s my wish: that we pay attention to what we’re actually doing, that we take responsibility for the consequences of what we actually do — for ourselves and everyone around us — and that our actions spring from this knowledge. Then we won’t have to make any kinds of resolutions, they’ll take care of themselves.

And also: Don’t forget to have fun.