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I've never been much on New Year's Resolutions. They're less "resolutions" than a vague sort of passing thought that boils down to: "This is how I'd like to change myself. I think I'll try that for a few days and see how it works out." Polls show 88 percent of them end with a resounding, "What the fuck was I thinking?" before the end of the first month.

And though I lack the motivation to conduct a scientific 10,000-person poll on the subject, I have tried and failed 10,000 or so life improvement attempts myself. I have noticed a specific pattern in this failure, so let me say that you're already doomed if you're ...

5
Setting Vague Goals

No resolution guarantees automatic failure more than the vague ones like, "I'm going to eat healthier" or "I'm going to get in shape" or "I'm going to stop being such a fuck-up."

The real danger in these types of promises is that the person making them can wind up thinking they've actually accomplished what they've set out to do, regardless of what changes they made or didn't make. That's secretly the reason your brain made you keep the goal vague, because subconsciously it knew to leave some wiggle room.

Let's take, "I'm going to eat healthier." Easy enough -- on the next grocery trip you'll cut out the junk food -- it doesn't take much will power to just not buy soda and chips and candy bars. Hell, look at the money you saved!

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It's a well documented fact that when you cut out junk food, money literally falls out of your ceiling.

A few hours later, you'll realize that you can't go the whole day without snacking on something. The hunger is distracting you from your work. So, maybe next time you buy some carrots and celery and other shit we think healthy people eat. About two days after that, you can't stand the sight of another vegetable, so you'll find a compromise replacement ... maybe granola bars or something with "just a little sugar" in it. Those are healthy, right? Fucking hippies. And you can't just drink water all day, so maybe an occasional diet soda wouldn't hurt.

In this war between you and your cravings, you'll keep retreating until you find some bit of ground that it doesn't cost you much to keep -- say, cutting out the chips, because it turns out you like pretzels just as much. And just like that, you're "eating healthier," despite the fact that 99.4 percent of your diet is exactly the same and your original resolution was clearly shooting higher. It turns out that movable finish lines are really easy to cross.

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"Oh, wow. Um ... can we just slide that up about a hundred feet?"

Realistically ...

Resolutions are about other people; the whole point of making a grand "resolution" that you tell all of your co-workers about (as opposed to just quietly changing your diet) is that you are kind of hoping the public shame aspect will motivate you. But that requires giving them specific things they can give you shit about if you get caught doing them.

So you've got to specifically say that you're cutting out all soda, chips, edible panties or whatever you're giving up. Define specific things that you'll be publicly shamed for having in your hand. Otherwise, don't bother -- you're just firing blindly into a garbage dump until you hit something ... then proudly turning to your friends and saying, "Nice. I was aiming for that can the whole time."

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"That's why I say, 'Hey, man, nice shot. Good shot, man.'"

4
Trapping Other People in Your Resolution

This one makes me want to punch people in their stupid, stupid faces. I should probably make a resolution to not be that way, but I'd break that fucker the second I heard someone say, "My resolution is for my girlfriend and I to get more exercise!" or, even worse, the implied resolution behind, "This year, I'm going to travel more with my family!"

Hey, did you ask your family? Nope, those poor fuckers are coming along with your journey to self improvement, whether they like it or not.

Now, obviously it's one thing if this has been discussed amongst all parties involved and agreed upon unanimously. You and your girlfriend can enjoy your tandem bike rides, you can pack up your family car and drive off into the sunset, blasting your favorite Cannibal Corpse CD or whatever it is that families listen to. But in my experience, this is often decided on the fly by a single person, whose life improvement plan involves using other people as props ("We're going to do more fun things as a family!" or "We're all going to start eating healthier!" or "We're all going to watch less TV!"). And everyone else just has to sort of go along with it, even if they hate every second of it. Which they will.

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"Yeah, I'm feeling better already. Thanks, cun- mom. I meant mom."

Let's take the "no junk food" thing from earlier. Yes, that's a noble goal for you, the overweight adult. And yes, childhood diabetes is a terrible thing and your kids shouldn't need a Rascal scooter to get from their bedroom to the fridge ... but you have to also keep in mind that they are still kids, and one of the most primal joys in a child's life is eating sweet things. If you make the decision to subject everyone in your house to your bullshit whim of a resolution, you're taking away part of what makes their childhood so goddamn fun. You had your fun at that age, but now you're punishing your healthy 10-year-old for your high cholesterol.

And it's going to fail. For each person you add to your group declaration, you double your chances of it failing. If you're adding even one person who doesn't agree that there is a problem, then go ahead and move the failure likelihood to 100 percent. Resolutions have to come from the inside.

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"Donald! You'd better not be in the opium jar again!"

Realistically ...

Don't get me wrong, if you're a parent, you have the right to control what your kids do, as best you can. But we're talking about resolutions here -- sudden, abrupt, drastic changes to lifestyle. You can think of yourself as the Undisputed Head of the Household all you want, but people won't suddenly abandon the things they enjoy unless they buy into the reasoning for it.

If you absolutely have to make a family or relationship-related resolution, sit down with them and talk about it. If it's a family situation, make a game of it -- see who can come up with the most fun ways to keep the resolution and then as a reward, that person doesn't get beaten tonight. If you're a woman sitting down with your significant other, get them to agree that there's a problem in the first place. If it's a diet issue, using a calm, rational, caring voice, say something to the effect of, "You so fat that when you got stopped by the cops, yo blood alcohol content came up as 'gravy.'" Or, "Last time you went to the tanning booth, it started a grease fire." Did you notice the technique? That's right; they're "yo mamma" jokes without the "yo mamma" part. Try it.

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"You so bald, you ... don't ... have much hair." It takes some practice.

But before any of that, try to make the resolution about you. Instead of, "This year, I'm going to travel more with my family!" it can be, "I'm going to stop going out on Saturday night so I can free up more time to do stuff with (my family, or whoever)." See the difference between that, versus decreeing that everyone will be required to pack their shit and go somewhere with you? You actually have the power to make yourself available to them. You don't have the power to make them enjoy a vacation that they were in no mood to take.

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"Hey, mom? Next year when you make a resolution, can you instead just go fuck yourself?"

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3
Not Doing the Homework First

So let's say that you've modified your vague resolution about eating healthy, and you've now defined it as flat out as you can: "I'm going to lose 30 lbs. by March." Now we're getting somewhere.

Wait. How did you come up with that number? Did you pull it out of a hat? The safe standard for weight loss is around two pounds per week. Any more, and you're risking some actual damage to your body, your mind and a collapse in overall energy. Meaning, you can either reach the goal and feel like shit (in which case you're going to stop dieting because you feel like shit) or else you'll fall far short of the goal because you were, in reality, "only" losing weight at the healthy rate of a 5-10 lbs. a month (at which point you're going to stop dieting because it's taking too long).

Do your goddamned homework, is what I'm saying. If you don't know what to expect, it's going to be incredibly easy to just throw in the towel. And then eat it, because you think it's people-food.

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Baby and all.

Part of what you're finding out, of course, is exactly what you'll need to do or not do in order to lose the weight. Are you taking that into account? Are you actually picturing being hungry and tired and sore, or are you just imagining yourself in a movie montage that ends with you pulling up your shirt to reveal your sexy abs? And what happens after March? Throwing your hands in the air, Rocky style and declaring victory over a cake party will take away half a year's worth of work in a goddamn heartbeat.

You can apply this to anything. Did you resolve to save $1,000 by June? What specifically are you going to do without? Are you going to take on a second job? Where is the time going to come from? Did you resolve to ramp 30 school buses on a dirt bike by August? Have you ever ramped anything before? What kind of training do daredevils get before they attempt stunts like that? Where do you get buses you can practice ramping?

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Personally, I just ramp them right there in the school parking lot while the kids are loading up.

Realistically ...

Which sounds easier: Losing 30 lbs. by June, or losing 5 lbs. per month? If you're starting your resolution on January 1, then both of those statements equal the same amount of weight. But 5 lbs. per month sounds much more attainable. And that psychological boost is needed in this resolution, more than just about any other that I've heard. And if that's still too daunting, take it down another notch. Forget the weight, and concentrate on the regimen. "I'm going to do 30 minutes on the Hump Machine three times a week."

Everybody is fat for different reasons, everybody has different weaknesses. That can make it impossible to know how fast you can lose the weight. Don't let the number discourage you from habits that everybody agrees will make you healthier in the long run.

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"Yay! Grandpa finally squeezed one out!"

2
Going Balls to the Wall

How many times in your life have you seen some drunken dumbass stand up on a table at 11:59 on December 31, and proudly proclaim to the world, "This is my last cigarette!" And you're all like, "Get down from there, Mom! And that's a dildo."

But they're not done. "And no more booze! I'm jogging two miles every morning, and learning to read Latin! I'm going to be a brand new person next year, right after I finish smoking this OH MY GOD NO."

And in fact, many of those people will wake up the next day and start kicking their old life's ass. They can almost hear the montage music in their head as they soak all the cigarettes in the sink, and dump out the booze and go shopping for running shoes. You can see them packing their fridge with greens and diet shakes, boasting every 10 seconds about how amazingly great they feel.

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"Someone stop that healthy, energetic blanket thief!"

Then their body freaks the hell out because it's used to a certain diet and lifestyle. Suddenly, they have no energy. They're shitting gravel. They're waking up with heartburn every morning. All those chemical addictions start screaming. They stormed into the ring, ready to knock out all of their vices in the first round, but punched themselves out 30 seconds in.

Then, feeling their bodies go through that nightmare, they start thinking, "Not drinking is making me sick!" Or, "Man, I must be allergic to vegetables. These things aren't healthy -- they're destroying me!"

And then the cold reality hits: This is forever. Quitting smoking means, "I will never light up a cigarette again for the rest of eternity." There is no finish line, no reward, just a seemingly infinite expanse of a grim, pleasure-free existence. If you're quitting for good, the only finish line is death.

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"I did it. I went my whole life without smoking. Now, I can finally -- shit, I'm dead."

Realistically ...

I almost killed myself doing this.

Regular readers know I stupidly didn't talk to a doctor before abruptly ending a 23 year drinking binge cold turkey. But a whole lot of you have the same personality type: If we're going to do this thing, we're going to fucking do it. We want to binge on self-improvement the same way we binged on booze. Pedal to the floor, no boundaries, not letting anybody else's advice slow us down. If it's a war between will power and addiction, we're going nuclear on addiction's fucking ass!


"I'LL BEAT THIS ANGER PROBLEM IF I HAVE TO FUCKING KILL YOU TO DO IT!

That's OK. It'll wait. You're still a prisoner of your biology and when everything from your blood sugar to your dopamine levels start bouncing all over the place, your biology will choke out that overconfident bravado in under a week. You've got to be smart, you've got to be patient and you've got to know yourself. Which brings us to ...

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1
Failing to Know Yourself

No matter what you choose as a resolution, if you don't know yourself, you're doomed before you even announce it to your shirtless bar buddies. The problem most people have with these commitments is that they're picturing themselves as a completely different person with infinite time, money, energy and resources.

Got any friends talking about how they've started doing P90X, the exercise program they're constantly advertising everywhere? That program is 60 minutes a day, six days a week. Add in the time you'll spend getting ready beforehand, showering afterward and trying to catch your breath when it's over, and you'd better block off two hours for the project. A day.

Don't get me wrong, you'll get fit as hell doing that. But when you imagine yourself devoting 10 or 12 hours a week to exercise, are you imagining what you're not doing? After all, right now in your unmodified life, do you find yourself just staring at the walls for two hours, completely dumbfounded as to how you're going to spend it? I sure as hell don't. So where is that time coming from? Sleep? Work? Cooking dinner? Cleaning the house? Time with your girlfriend/boyfriend/family?

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Spousal abuse?

Same thing with the resolution to eat healthier. It's great that you're not going to stop at the Taco Bell drivethru any more. But did you also plan for the one to two hours a night now spent cooking a meal from healthy, fresh ingredients? Why the hell do you think you started eating fast food in the first place? Shit, why the hell do you think drivethrus were invented?

The "I'm going to travel more" thing sounds like the most noble resolution possible. Everybody should get out and see the world. Are you going to drop out of society and hop boxcars across the country? Because otherwise that shit costs time and money that has to be stolen from something else. Something else that you are doing for a reason.

And if the resolution is to quit something intended to free up time (World of Warcraft, TV, porn, going to bars) then you've got to stop and acknowledge that those things were filling a need. Do all of your friends play WoW? So what, you're just going to abandon them? You're quitting to free up time, but to do what? To learn rock climbing? Or to drink?

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Start a business?

Is the thing you're replacing it with going to fill the same need (stress relief, socializing, sex) as the thing you're quitting?

Realistically ...

This isn't the same thing as, "Why even bother, you know you'll just fail, you worthless jackoff." You won't and you're not -- you're the miraculous end result of millions of years of cutthroat evolution that made you the king of this fucking planet. But you also have needs, and weaknesses, and you have to plan around them. Future You will need entertainment, and stress relief, and rest.

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And a reasonable sense of modesty.

I gave up World of Warcraft because I was spending as much time on that game as I was in my full time job. Now, to fill the void, I start meat fights with random people at the local butcher's shop. Yeah, some people might not call that a hobby, but I guarantee that they've never been pelted in the neck with a 10 oz. sirloin. And knowing that, I think I just figured out my resolution for this year. I'm going to have to free up shitloads of time.

John answers fan mail on his tumblr.

For more Cheese, check out 5 Wacky Internet Pranks That Can Get You Jail Time and 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Quitting Drinking.

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