New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be bold. Sometimes change comes in the quiet ones
They’re slippery things — New Year’s resolutions — aren’t they?
We make them with the best of intentions and mere weeks later surrender them with all the resolve of a Yankee swap gift we never wanted in the first place.
Sure. OK. You can have it.
Here, take my gluten-free diet. My would-be gym routine. The thrice-weekly yoga classes that sounded good in my head but will be near-impossible to execute in the context of real life. Do what you will with my hollow interest in the meditation app someone recommended to me at a party when I was half listening.
This is how it can go. I speak from my own experience as an avid resolver (sometimes with success, other times with abject failure) and as a person who works in the wellness industry, the primary motivational and commercial force behind most of our resolutions.
Annually, I watch attendance in the yoga classes I teach and health clubs where I work out balloon in the month of January. The lines for the showers go from, well, one person walking into a shower, to a snaking lineup of near-naked people that resembles a sterile, less-edgy version of Burning Man.
So, not Burning Man really, save for being crowded and near-naked.
By mid-February, the showers resume to normalcy, you have your pick of any bike in spin class.
But sometimes, it doesn’t go this way. Sometimes, people stay the course. They create real and lasting change, physically or mentally. Maybe both, these things being as inextricable as they are. A person begins at the fairy-tale stroke of midnight on Dec. 31 and is still doing their damn thing for the relentless year to come. Call me hokey; I have seen it.
I’ve seen people show up to their first yoga classes, faces flush within minutes, what in God’s name have they gotten themselves into? And yet, they stay. They sweat and bend and breathe. It’s hard, as anything is when it’s new and we’re beginners. It’s even annoying at times; being a beginner slays the ego, you know. It can be boring. All that discipline laid out incrementally and unceremoniously each day or week, over and over again.
I’ve watched people quit smoking or start meditating or rekindle a hobby that previously brought great joy, but somehow got lost in the detritus of adulting — playing guitar, or stringing beads, or doodling in a sketchbook. I’ve seen people start to come alive in the dead of winter in New England.
Successful resolutions don’t need to look perfect every day. In fact, no one has to see them. They don’t need to be trendy. They don’t need to have anything to do with the gym, or the scale, or the refrigerator, unless you want them to. They only need to mean something to the person in charge: You.
Twice I’ve changed my own life with a resolution, a declaration that this will be the year I do this. First, it was the goal of starting a blog as a way to hold myself accountable to the task of writing on a regular basis. It worked. I created OmGal.com in the early 2000s and maintained it for more than seven years, laying the foundation for my first book. Later, I decided I would meditate every day. I had tried unsuccessfully to do this before. Who’s to say I could stick with it this time?
I’ve had my share of other failures along the way, too. I attempted to give up sugar one year, inspired by Madonna and too many virtuous yogis in my mix, which basically meant that I was freebasing dried mango within weeks and overdoing all kinds of natural sugars to ease a craving that would have been easily (and healthfully) sated with a piece of chocolate.
For me, the game changer was a new approach. Put simply: I took the pressure off. I didn’t have an agenda for how many minutes I’d meditate, or when, or where. I just had to do it. Fifteen minutes on a proper meditation cushion: Great. Two minutes in a parked car after I’d sprinted down the block to move it in the nick of time before street cleaning: Good enough.
What we often miss during this time of year, of glossy health promises and products, lofty goals and bold affirmations, is that the work of personal change is often quieter, simpler, and less compelling on Instagram. It’s the stuff of eating more vegetables, lacing up our sneakers on a cold morning when no one is watching, or reading a book for sheer pleasure. It is looking in the mirror and deciding not to tolerate the voice of judgment or diminishment anymore, to replace it with something kinder, friendlier, and more patient.
Does it make you come more to life in the dead of winter? That’s the resolution worth making now and most likely to last the year.