Thursday, January 2, 2014

Resolve, Resolving, Resolute...?

...and here it is.  A new year, shiny, evenly divisible by 2, 19 and 53, just the way that all the best years should be. It's that dreaded thing today, something everybody's doing: resolution talk. Because that's what all the popular kids are doing besides hanging out behind the cafeteria, smoking Lucky Strikes and talking about boys/girls/cars/postmodern literature. Or postmodern literature about boys, girls and cars.

After a number of reasonably successful resolutions, I think I know a few things about making them and a few things about why so many people tend to fuck them up. The success rate for resolutions, particularly of the January 1 variety, tends to be pretty dismal.

There's a science to making resolutions you'll actually follow. Here's how you do it.

Step 0.  Don't do it unless you actually mean it. Take some time and ask yourself some serious questions: are you making this resolution because it sounds nice, or because people expect you to do it? Do you have a personal stake in the outcome?

Unless you want something at a very fundamental level or have some very specific end goal in sight you are probably going to stall out after a month or two. Be honest with yourself now before you waste your time doing something you probably won't stick with.

It's fine to want to lose weight, for example, or quit smoking or stop being an asshole, but if the only reason you're doing it is just so you can have a resolution to be following or because you have a vague notion of "wouldn't it be nice if..." you're probably gonna crater some time in early March. And, having failed at this year's resolution, the next year's is going to be that much easier to fuck up.

Okay, with the obligatory tough love out of the way, lets assume you either ignored Step 0 or are pretty serious about the whole thing. You actually want to get that novel done or give up smoking meth. Or write that novel about giving up smoking meth. You'll want to...

Step 1.  Assess your support network. There are two schools of thought here, and it's really all about your social network and its history with resolutions.

The first school of thought is that you should tell EVERYBODY you're doing something. This way, there's a certain amount of accountability. If you're cramming pie into your face, your friends are probably going to wonder why. This is fine if your social network isn't the sort that has a big history of people who make a big deal of following resolutions.

For example, earlier this year, when I resolved to drink less, I told everybody I was going to do it. Not many of my friends make resolutions, especially of this sort, so it was enough of a novelty that I knew that fucking up would get commented on. This was a key factor in sticking with it. End result? Success.

HOWEVER. A lot of times you get just as much of a rush telling people you're following a resolution as you do actually achieving it. Perhaps even more so. If your social network has a ton of people doing resolutions, particularly of the sort you're planning on doing right now, and they tend to be supportive in all the wrong ways, you might have a better chance with keeping your yap shut.

This is how I went with my writing resolution and it was successful. I don't think I would have had such an easy time sticking with it if I had people constantly asking me how it was going or complimenting me on my progress. I tapped into my angry loner streak to get things done.

Step 2. Get specific.

That's it, really. A good resolution is achievable. Six-pack abs is a terrible resolution if you're currently forty or fifty pounds overweight. Can you achieve your goal within a realistic amount of time without driving yourself bonkers? No? Scale back.

Play around with the wording of your resolution. Try breaking it into smaller bits just to see what they look like. Even if you think you can do it as is, try making it more limited anyway just to see what it looks like.

A good resolution goal is specific and measurable. It has milestones built in. Lose twenty pounds, for example, is a great goal because it's a realistic number--most people can lose twenty pounds in a few months, maybe quicker. Twenty pounds has milestones built right in. Every five pounds or so you can celebrate a little, pat yourself on the back. If you get done with your resolution while you still don't completely hate the process, you can make another specific achievable one then. For now, limit your scope.

Step 3. Low-ball your energy levels when setting goals and milestones.

Willpower is a limited resource, no matter how awesome you are. Winters are long, energy levels will flag. You will, in the middle of the race, begin to question your resolve. Don't just assume you're going to keep the same bright-eyed enthusiasm you have right now.

In light of this...

Step 4.  Release valves!

Assume you're going to fuck up. You will want that cake. You'll get sick of your writing project. You'll want to have a beer or say something mean to someone. It happens, you're human. Failing is just as much a kind of progress as winning. You're going to fuck up and if you stick with things, you're going to learn from those fuck ups.

Set up specific ways during the resolution you can blow off steam.

When dieting, it's common to throw in cheat meals throughout the week. This lets you eat the things you've been craving without derailing your diet. For example, you let yourself have two cookies on Monday so you're not craving cookies all week. If you don't throw in cheats, eventually you'll snap and eat an entire bag of Oreos.

Recognize that, over the course of months, you will go off track and plan for it. You might not need to resort to the release valve, but it should be there in case you need it.

Example: in my resolution to write something every week, I gave myself the ability to take a mulligan that week. I also was vague enough that I could half-ass a week every once in a while with flash fiction.

Another example: When I gave up most of my drinking, I gave myself very specific circumstances in which I could have a drink or two if I needed it. It helps. A lot. I don't always resort to them, but they're there so long as I don't overdo them.

Step 5. Consequences.

Consider some kind of penalty in case you go off track.

A good penalty can't be so dire that you'll go offtrack and then not do the penalty because it's just too harsh, but it has to be enough that you'll think twice about screwing up. For example, set up a swear jar. Donate enough money to charity every week you screw up that it's a hit to your finances without crippling you. Tell a friend to make a mocking limerick about you on Facebook if they see you going off the rails. Or, as in the case of my drinking, screwing up itself is enough of a penalty in its own right to make for reasonable consequences. I hate hangovers more than anything in the world, including mimes, so having a hangover is a pretty large stick to get thwacked with.

Step 6. Don't do it.

Consider not doing it the first of the year. Resolutions are good any time and, if you do them in July, people are shocked enough to pay attention/hold you to it more.

Everybody makes resolutions at the beginning of January. So many in fact, it's kind of a given that nobody will follow them. If you are absolutely set on doing this right now, consider not telling anyone about it, at least not until a few months have passed. Use other resolutioners, the sorts who aren't kicking all sorts of ass because they've followed my advice above, as motivation. When one of them flames out, smile, and then hold your course.

Or just wait a few months when the environment isn't quite so toxic to resolutions and the weather's nicer.

And now here's mine. It's not really a resolution so much as a battle plan:

I'm switching up my blog routine. Sunday/Tues/Thur, probably. I won't be posting stories every week or doing formal status updates. Updates will probably stay writing-oriented because as a writer I love to talk about writer. We are narcissistic beasts, after all.

I'll be doing the following, work-wise:

Resolution 1:

3 weeks, work on the novel. Either productive outline work or a couple of chapters each week (or more). This week, for example, will just be gathering notes and getting a good nutshell summary of my book together.

Resolution 2:

Every fourth week, a short story. Can't give these up.

Resolution 3:

I'm going to do something every week which would result in making money from my writing. My goal is, by summer at the latest, to have some sort of regular side-income from my writing. I have a strategy. I will only go into it if it works however because then I can gloss over all the fuck-ups and say I intended it to work out that way all along.

There you have it. The Billion Monkeys Guide To Resolutions.

Crap, now I have to change up my header and about block. Ah, well. Sacrifices.

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