Friday, January 15, 2016

New Year, NOT A New You, But....

By Art Taylor

Here at the end of a rare two-week cycling of a single question (Happy New Year again, here at mid-January!), I glanced back to gauge the overall consensus by my fellow Criminal Minds panelists on the question of New Year's Resolutions. Seems like most folks either aren't fond of making them or don't have much faith in keeping the ones they do make—or perhaps stick with resolutions that are recycled and renewed year to year.

To that degree, I may be the outlier here: As much as I hate New Year's Eve (that sense that you must be doing something wild and festive), I cherish New Year's Day and I find myself excited about each year's new set of resolutions.

I think the problem many people have with resolutions is that they're too general or abstract or too idealistic: Be a better person! Eat healthier! Lose 10 pounds! ....somehow!

Intentions like that are good—what could be wrong with trying to improve some area of your life?—but the idea that you will suddenly on a single day begin to become a different person by sheer dint of good intentions and steadfast willpower.... well, that's doomed to failure.

When I've made resolutions, I've tried to keep them if not small then at least manageable, to make sure they're also measurable, and to build them not into a major change in lifestyle but into small shifts that I hope might grow into routine. And I do think that regular routine is key to success—something that was driven home by a Washington Post article that appeared at the turn of the year. The "Five Myths" column on habits, written by Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business, hinged on the idea of new year's resolutions and emphasized that it's not willpower at all but the repetition of an action that helps to cement lasting change and also talked about shifts in environmental cues—something as simple, she said, as putting the lid on a candy dish instead of leaving it open.

My goals usually involve writing or reading, but I also have small bits of good intention that I try to articulate as repeatable actions, and in most cases, I build in reminders for these actions, such as items on the to-do list on my phone or shifts in those environmental cues. So far, fifteen days in, I'm doing pretty well with this year's resolutions.

Here then is my list of 2016 New Year's Resolutions—with brief annotations:

  • Write FIRST! This is one of my perennial goals, and it's the one I struggle with the most. At the very list, I try to check in with a writing project each day (if not as the first thing each day). It's in red with exclamations points on my to-do list and marked as highest priority. 
  • Read War and Peace. This floated as a potential resolution last year, but I ended up deciding to read all five of Patricia Highsmith Ripley novels instead (a resolution I kept). The interesting thing about War and Peace as a resolution is that the book has exactly 365 chapters, so if you read just one small chapter a day.... I have a hardcover copy of the book on my nightstand, and I also downloaded it on my Kindle, which also shows up on the Kindle app on my phone, so there are various opportunities to fit in that single chapter throughout the day. Fifteen days in, fifteen chapters down—and I'm really enjoying it.
  • Speaking of that phone: Don't check my iPhone all the time. This was a resolution I made last year and only vaguely kept; instead of actively keeping it, I just built up an awareness of how often I was breaking it. This year, I've renewed it, with two specific plans. First, unless I'm out and need to have the phone handy (a call from Tara, for example, or from the babysitter if we're both out), I physically put the phone away from 6 until 10 p.m. each night—keeping the lid on the candy dish, so to speak, instead of just trying to resist grabbing another piece. Additionally, no phones at mealtime, whenever or wherever mealtime is. Keep the focus on the person in front of me and on the conversation there; that's what mealtimes are for. 
  • Try something new each month. This could be a new restaurant, a museum we haven't been to, or some other activity. This is an easy one, since we generally try to be adventurous with our son, curating fun experiences. Already checked this one off for January, when we tried a new restaurant in Alexandria, VA—Magnolia's on King.
  • Let Dash pick out and help with making more meals—in fact, do this twice each month. Our son, who's four now, loves to help out in the kitchen; he helped my wife make five dozen pierogies back before Christmas, for example. So this resolution simply gives him more control over what we make. For the first part of January, he chose baked potato "boats" with broccoli and cheese from a cookbook for kids on our shelves—fairly simple, but we carried through with it, and it all worked out fine. Today my to-do list carries the reminder that we'll need to choose another recipe for the second half of the month. I'm ready!
  • Pet the cats each time I come home. I'll admit it: The cats and I have a tense relationship sometimes. "Be nicer to the cats" isn't specific enough. Again, it's not the intention that counts but the habit that might be formed.
Now I just need to set a reminder to fess up here at the end of the year how well I did with all this.

Fingers crossed! And again, happy new year to all!


Paul D. Marks said...

Art, good luck with War and Peace. I think every book should either have 365 chapters, so you can read one a day in a year, or 31 chapters so you can read one a day and finish it in a month.

As to first resolution about writing first, I think that’s something we all want and plan to do. I know I do. But then it seems like life gets in the way. Whether it’s doing the business side of writing or just the day to day things. So I wish you luck with that one too.


Art Taylor said...

Life does indeed get in the way, Paul.... And good idea about 31 chapters! 28 for February.

Best wishes for a great writing year for all of us. :-)

Sam said...

War and peace is terrific.

Art Taylor said...

I'm loving it so far, Sam!