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!
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.
"Oh, wow. Um ... can we just slide that up about a hundred feet?"
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."
"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.
"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.
"Donald! You'd better not be in the opium jar again!"
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.
"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.
"Hey, mom? Next year when you make a resolution, can you instead just go fuck yourself?"
#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.
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?
Personally, I just ramp them right there in the school parking lot while the kids are loading up.
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.
"Yay! Grandpa finally squeezed one out!"