I once heard an interview with Billy Joel. When asked what was the worst part of his childhood, he said it was that his mother made him take piano lessons. All his friends were out playing in the streets and laughing all summer long but he was stuck inside practicing at the keyboard for hours and hours. “I hated it,” he said. Then he was asked what was the best part of his childhood, and he laughed and said, “My mother made me take piano lessons.”
I had been thinking about how 2017 absolutely sucked. I won’t bother with the details, but it was challenging; thankfully, not nearly as much as it was for most other people, including some loved ones, but challenging just the same. And yet, here I am at the end of it both metaphorically and literally as 2018 is sitting right in the path just a few feet ahead of us all.
Interesting, I don’t find myself beaten down or discouraged; no, just the opposite. I feel a sense of resolve. We usually don’t notice during the trials of life that they can also be wake-up calls, preparation in a way for what’s next. I am faced with new beginnings and I really don’t mind. It’s as if I was given the materials to build new wings then pushed off a cliff and told to figure out how they work on the way down.
Well it usually does take a shove off the cliff to get us to fly. We are so resistant to change, aren’t we? I mean, theoretically we welcome change, we enjoy the variety and new experiences; but realistically it is scary, especially when rocketing toward fifty-eight years old. Still, with a little contemplation and retreat, plus just the right amount of caffeine, I’m able to see how I could only arrive at this place I find myself by suffering through the scratching and peeling that occurs when shedding an old skin. And now that I’ve had a moment to regroup, process, rationalize, and meditate—I believe I’ve come up with some basic resolves.
First though, in making these resolutions, I had to reach back into some former motivational training. There was a time I was paid very good money to assist people with their resolve to change. Thanks to lessons learned from my old boss Richard, I’m acutely aware that we don’t lose fifty pounds by losing fifty pounds. We lose fifty pounds by losing one pound, then another, then we gain a few back and then lose a few more than that, and eventually we realize we’ve made progress. So my list must be patient; it must not contain bravado or climatic moments at every turn.
Second, my list must be tempered by experience. One of my favorite character traits revealed in The Great Gatsby is when his father, after Jay’s death, is reading the list of resolves his son wrote when just a boy. In one of them the young Jay had written, “Save $5.00 (crossed out) $3.00 per week.” We learn Jay has ambition but understands his limitations. My list must show hope without setting myself up for discouragement.
Third my list must not bring me down the old paths I’ve walked aimlessly hoping to bump into something good. Nothing falls in our lap; we will not win the lottery, talent without effort is as common as corn, and the famous truism is as true as ever—the definition of insanity is doing the same thing hoping to reach different results. No, my list must be specific, take advantage of this clean slate before me, appreciate the challenges I still carry, blend my talents with a determined work ethic, and be unabashedly honest.
It is how my resolutions should have always been of course no matter my circumstance, whether one of comfort or not. I would tell the health club members that a list of resolutions can be created any time of the year, from any point of momentum or despair. And while obviously I know that, my past resolutions were often lofty and quickly abandoned, and I almost always waited until either the New Year or my birthday to implement change.
And finally, I must appreciate those aspects of my past which worked, which I rely upon to know who I am, and which I refuse to abandon. It is brilliantly acceptable for a list to include, “I will continue to…” several times. Many things in my life, after all, worked out fine and I have no intention of resolving them away. So any successful list must include not only new approaches to the old failures but reliance upon tried and proven traits which keep me sane.
In the end, this year is no different but for one minor aspect—my future is completely unpredictable for the first time in three decades, and the attention I pay to these resolves will be the difference between making the same mistakes or making it all worthwhile.
So here I am at the break of this New Year, and I came up with a short but solid list with which I can move forward with confidence and hope. I do like the New Year best for these sorts of things. We just spent a week, at the least, consuming sugar, being lazy, not working, and just about any other vice we can squeeze around the Holy Day celebration. So now I sit here on Boxing Day feeling beat to death by 2017 and over-consumption during these last few days, and I’ve come up with a very specific list of goals.
Before that, though, two items to rule out of resolution lists: First, no more weight loss plans. Come on, I’m not an idiot. How hard is it to know what is good for me and bad for me? A primary way to not have to worry about changes in health care laws is to attempt to avoid the need for health care at all, and one of the two ways to do that is to eat right. No sugar, no salt, no late night eating, etc. We all know the list so there is no need for it to be on our “resolution list.” Just freaking eat right, Bob. Second, exercise. This is yet another way of avoiding doctor’s visits, and we know this. Oh my God we all know that if we move around we stay healthier. This isn’t rocket science. To include it on the list is to imply I’ve got the attention span and discipline of a five-year-old. Exercise and healthy eating have no place on the resolution list of anyone who can think clearly. The exception to this would be legitimate addicts (which also would apply to the group dedicated to quit smoking and drinking). If you are not an addict then just be disciplined and stop making excuses. If you are, then the resolution should be to seek professional help immediately so the New Year begins with a program to move away from old habits. Besides, many rehabilitation programs already have the greatest resolution list ever created: To accept the things I cannot change and to change the things I can. I don’t attempt so much for the wisdom part.
Something else I like to do with the list is tell someone I trust to be honest with me, someone who isn’t afraid of me becoming irritated by the reminders and nagging. But most importantly, the list cannot be thought of as “goals for the year.” It has to be a list of resolutions for today, just for today. That’s it. So taking exercise and healthy eating as examples since neither should be on the list anyway, we must not think in terms of “this year I am going to…” but instead, ‘Today, I will…” and do that every morning. And if need be, make it, “For the next hour I will (or will not)….” This is how people achieve success in all fields; they certainly have an ultimate goal in mind, but they almost unanimously work in terms of the “now.” As time goes swiftly by—and it does go by swiftly—the hours and days add up to new ways of life—and before you know it you build your wings and you learn to fly.
So the list: