The Simple Facts About New Year’s Resolutions

This was one of my earliest columns for the Chesterfield Observer, and includes a couple of my favorite lines about Victoria’s Secret models. Happy New Year!!!

Every year around this time we resolve to change the way we live for the better.
And every year, not long after this time, our resolve fails.VS and NASCAR 2

Why is it so hard to keep our New Year’s resolutions?

To start with, as humans we are worse than the focus-challenged Dory the blue fish in Finding Nemo: “I will exercise. I will exercise. I will exercise. I will… I will… What was it again? Hmm. Oh well. Maybe I’ll eat a bag of potato chips and fall asleep on the couch.”

As Samuel Johnson said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

Tradition challenges us: Why wait until the dead of winter to resolve to exercise? Because it’s tradition – even though it is also dark 18 hours a day and cold around the clock. Good luck with that.

That tradition also leads us to wait until after seven weeks of holiday-fueled binge-eating to resolve to lose weight. That’s like digging a 10-foot hole, shipping off the excavated dirt, then jumping in and resolving to build a 20-foot hill.

Our culture challenges us: During the holidays, you can’t swing a pair of ratty underwear without slapping up against a Victoria’s Secret advertisement. Talk about unrealistic expectations. We have as much chance of looking like today’s models-male or female-as we do of winning the Nextel Cup driving our minivan.

Like NASCAR stock cars, Victoria’s Secret models have very few factory-original parts left on them. So while they may be fun to watch, let’s not expect the same performance from our own, unmodified chassis.

Technology challenges us: In 1845, in Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote about the new technology of the railroad and the effort required to build it, maintain it and then to keep up with the faster pace of life it created.

Thoreau said, “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us,” perfectly describing our relationship with “labor-saving” technologies.

With BlackBerries, cell phones and e-mail, we can work from anywhere – the family room, the soccer field, the beach, even the sickbed. About the only place we can’t work from is the grave, but I’ve heard they are working on it. When making a living completely overtakes making a life, what chance do our best intentions have?

So what is the answer? It is this: Simplify.

Start by anchoring long-term goals in what you can control. Don’t resolve “to get my teenager to love me.” That is out of your control! Instead, resolve “to love my teenager no matter what.” That’s one you can control, and as a bonus, both goals become more possible with this approach.

Next, simplify your daily to-do list. Thoreau said, “Our lives are frittered away by detail… I say let your affairs be as two or three, not a hundred or a thousand.” When you are feeling overwhelmed, make a list, identify the top two or three items, and then, as Dr. Jim Flamming at First Baptist Church used to say, “do the next thing.”

And don’t get down on yourself. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thoreau’s fellow transcendentalist, said, “The greatest thing in the world is not so much where we stand as in which direction we are moving.”

Finally, let yourself be inspired. God, the laws of the universe and your family and friends all want you to succeed, and if you follow your dreams they will help you along.

As Thoreau said, “…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours… In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex… If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Maybe this year, consider this resolution: Simplify.