Monday, December 29

Reflection and Resolution

I started to write about reflection and resolution and found myself drifting off onto a variety of tangents. So I saved the draft, went downstairs to make another cup of tea and read the paper. The headlines today are about the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and the difficulties this creates for the Obama transition team and what Obama had hoped to do in the Middle East (pray more for leadership). In the first section of the paper there are articles about women and heart disease (be more mindful of my health, get my a$$ and the rest of me to the fitness center for real). There is also a report that eco-Leo DiCaprio traded in his Toyota Prius for a $147,000 Tesla Roadster, a high-performance electric car (I got nuthin').

And then I read the comics. I have to say that the so-called funnies rarely make me laugh. I might grin or occasionally chuckle, but the out loud laugh is rare. Today I laughed out loud. I read Mutts, which is a strip I don't usually follow. But the second panel caught my eye: "You don't smoke!!" says the dog character. I had to back up and there in the first panel is the cat with its list of resolutions and #1 is "Shtop Shmoking" (the slurry thing is one of the reasons I don't care for this strip; it's irrational, I know, but there it is). We know the second panel so I skipped it to the third panel which reads: "I figured I'd shtart with some easy ones." Yep. That made me laugh. Out loud.

Then I read Frazz, which I do follow and which may be one of my all-time favorites strips. It's in the same vein, of course, of fulfilling a resolution that's easy simply because it can't be done or needn't be done anyway. Mrs. Olsen had vowed to give up lardo. In the third panel she says "I don't know what it is. I just know you can't get it here." And while I laughed out loud, her comment in the fourth panel made me stop to think for a moment: "Man, I could use some lardo!". And there it is. The reason for so many failed resolutions. The moment we try to give up something we have an irrational yearning for it. Cheap psychology, I know. Probably not correct, but you know what I mean.

A lot of people are reflecting this time of the year. In newspapers, online, and in magazines, people are recalling "the best of" a variety of things in 2008 and reflecting on the moments that past unacknowledged, the people who are no longer with us, the significant events that seemed to compel or impel some sort of change or difference. I know there is something hopeful about putting up a new calendar. Turning that first page of a brand new year. Though January 1, 2009 will look no different in many ways than December 31, 2008, it is the FACT that is is January 1 with a new number at the end of the year that makes such a difference. Clean slate and all that. Depending on how we spent December 31, we wake up to January 1 with hope and determination that this year things will be different; I will be different. And perhaps we have made our lists, starting with the easy ones. Small successes can make their own kind of difference.

Why do we make resolutions for a new year? There are many reasons and I think the source for resolutions is a sort of discontent with who and what we are, a sense that we can be better people. But I also think that we may believe that if we keep our resolutions, then somehow our lives will be happier and "better," though that seems to be an elusive concept as "better" may not be quantifiable. It is more or different from the life we have now. More comfortable? More stable? Somehow, just "better."

We each tend to focus on the personal because there are limits to what we think we can control. I should have sufficient discipline to control my own behavior and somehow the ball dropping in Times Square, the clean new page of a new calendar of a new year will help mitigate that improve my self-discipline. But then we all joke about how long we'll be able to keep our resolutions because we know that none of those symbols is sufficient to change of lifetime of bad behavior. And then we hear the life coaches telling us not to try to take on too much, not to try to overhaul our lives but to make small changes to have small successes to motivate us to further change and better discipline and better lives and more happiness because, after all, that's what we're chasing, right? Happiness?

I tend not to make resolutions for the new year because, if I'm honest with myself, I'm always making resolutions. I think that's probably true of most of us. We make resolutions about the things we want to change in ourselves or about ourselves and we set target dates for starting: "Okay, next Wednesday is a full moon so that's the day I'm going to start. . . ". That gives us a few days between now and then to binge on whatever behavior we want to change or whatever thing we plan to give up. It's the last hurrah. The opportunity to get it out of our systems. The problem is, of course, the target date comes and something doesn't quite work out so we set another target date. It becomes an endless cycle of getting ready to do something.

As I reflect on my own 2008, I know there are a lot of things I could have done and should have done differently. I hope I can learn from my mistakes though there are plenty I find myself making over and over again. But as I look back at 2008, I see there are many things that went well. So I will celebrate the good and try to learn from the bad, and then move on.

I always resolve to get more exercise (see paragraph 1) and lose weight. Those are not easy ones, though both are important. I have a list of things crashing about in my head of things I'd like to do and things I'd like to improve, all accomplishable and not requiring a lot of ramp-up time or target dates or that much effort on my part. Not really. An easy one? Hmmm. Pray more. I think the hardest one may to be to procrastinate less. I'm just not real sure when I'll be able to get around to that one.

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