My resolution on January 1, 2016 was to not make any resolutions.
If you know me, you may find that resolution surprising. That’s because I’m usually very goal-oriented, and I often find myself setting goals as a way to channel my energy into tangible results, whether those results are as big as saving money for a European adventure or as small as growing a strawberry from a potted plant.
So when I decided in early January not to decide on any specific goals for the year, I initially feared that my life would descend into a slothfulness not seen before on this side of the Mariana Trench.
And at first, it did. January is a cold, dark, and mirthless month, and February is similarly cruel. It is difficult to move about in those winter months, much less wiggle yourself aimlessly here, then briefly there, then back here again, with no goal to wiggle towards.
Last year, the year before the Year of No Resolutions, I’d resolved to donate my hair to the Make a Wig Foundation. Last year I could spend my quieter moments contemplating the concrete specificities of my hair’s slow but deliberate progress towards its acceptable length. Last year I had goals.
This year, staring the the Year of No Resolutions right in its dull, unfocused eyes, I had nothing to do in my idle moments but twiddle my thumbs while contemplating the mystery of why Germans “squeeze their thumbs for you” instead of just crossing their fingers for good luck. (If you are German, by the way, and can somehow rationalize this idiom, please contact me immediately. You have a lot of explaining to do, but I also have a lot of resolution-less time on my hands.)
After a few weeks of pondering thumbs, I got bored, so I decided to modify the Year of No Resolutions into the Year of Generalized Lifestyle Improvements. I convinced myself that this plan was still not a resolution because I had no specific goal in mind, apart from my plan to make myself feel slightly less like a molten Wicked Witch of the Northwest Arkansas Metropolitan Statistical Area. Because let’s face it: my muscles, my brain, and my self were all melting right into the couch.
So off I went, developing Generalized Lifestyle Improvements but avoiding resolutions like the plague. I started with yoga, then soon after added in running. At first, I just ran to run. I knew I wanted to improve my heart’s health, so I followed the American Heart Association’s recommendations of a 75-minutes-per-week regimen of vigorous aerobic activity complemented by a twice-weekly muscle-building activity.
Initially, my only requisite to exercising was to put in the time: I decided to commit to three days of running and two days of yoga per week. And then I started, running Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; and doing yoga on Mondays and Wednesdays.
I spent the first few weeks just trying to acclimate my body to the routine. As the weeks progressed, though, I began to see running as a refuge. The regularity of the schedule I’d built around it, combined with the “mind-clearing magic of running,” became a haven to me.
In mid-April, after surprising myself with nearly three month’s worth of wholehearted commitment to my running schedule, I decided to add a third project to my Year of Generalized Life Improvements: writing every day. This was also around the same time I first learned about Jerry Seinfeld’s secret to success: start making a consistent chain of activity, then simply “don’t break the chain.”
I was astonished by this recommendation. I had never considered success in such a simple and straightforward way. All I had to do was work a little bit on my chain every single day, and then, over time, those little bits would accumulate into larger bits? It seemed obvious enough, and I had seen how this accumulation process worked from watching strands of hair collect into larger and larger tumblehairs in the corners of my bathroom floor. But I’d never thought of accruing links on an activity “chain” as a way to move towards success.
I decided to try it anyway. And sure enough, my tiny clumps of words that I wrote each day slowly formed into bigger—well, bigger clumps of words. But still; as of today, I have clumped together 23 days’ worth of words. And who knows how much bigger the clump of words will be in 46 days, and in 346 days?
My Year of No Resolutions started out as an amorphous challenge to my goal-oriented self to try simply living in the moment, but it has since evolved into something much more interesting. It has turned into a year of teaching myself how to create sustainable habits. Because I’ve learned that habit is a key foundation of long-term success. If I want to run a marathon, first I have to build the practice of running regularly into my schedule. If I want to write a book, I have to foster a routine of writing every day. Goals can focus my plans, but I also have to have well-developed habits to lead me closer those goals each day.
Squeeze your thumbs for me and my habits and goals. I’ll keep you updated.