this is the time of year when the holiday haze finally lifts. on some wednesday in early january we hesitate a moment too long in front of the mirror and suffer a flash of introspection. we realise that the ‘until the holidays are over’ deadline that we established somewhere on the way back for thirds on boxing day can no longer be postponed. the guerillas of self-improvement have descended from guilt mountain and are threatening the city gates. there is unrest amongst the natives. some welcome the wily rebels, what with their crazy new ideas and idealistic outlook. still others long to be kept under the protection of uncle, el presidente, general el mismo. after all, he got into power preaching the comfort of continuity; the party slogan: ‘we fear change’. these are the players in the january war. the tactic employed by both is the key to keeping your own resolutions: the winning of hearts and minds. namely, your own.
now im sure by this point in the year you have come across some sort of advice writing about what measures to employ to stick to your new year’s resolutions. i certainly not one to give advice. in the past i have found that my suggestions have been met with, at best, polite receptivity to, at worst, stern instructions to deplane without making a scene. i simply would just like to point out one of the glaring incongruities of self-improvement: the tool is also the problem. every year we take inventory of ourselves and notice a distinct deficit of judgement, resolve, and discipline. our response? using our best judgement we resolve to be more disciplined. we are doing no more good than setting the hands on a broken clock. without repairing the interior workings we are doomed to lose a second a minute until eventually the time is so off we find ourselves waking up at three pm on the other side of the city with a girl calling herself ‘sheryl’ who is demanding cab fare in an accent i could only place as uzbekistani. metaphors aside, not a mere change in behaviour but a real change in perspective is the true challenge.
the first thing to keep perspective on is that new year’s day is, in the grand scheme, a fairly arbitrary date. it is easy to over invest the date with a surfeit of chastity. we are often induced by the cold stillness of a snowy new years morning to believe that in such a virginal setting a rebirth of our own is more than merely possible, but destined. this will be the year it all turns around. the year they shall remember me for! but then, inevitably, somewhere around the seventeenth, perhaps the twenty-first if you are particularly spartan, it all goes to shit. we take that first drag, order just the one drink, text the ex. then like finding out your girlfriend has been nailing your cousin, january is just another whore like all the rest. more so in fact because of the initial perceived purity. its like sandy’s transformation scene at the end of ‘grease’, except not as wholesome, and probably not at an amusement park. unless of course the particular vice you were trying to kick is cotton candy, gravitrons, puking in public, or some combination thereof. from that point on we treat the rest of the year with the scorn generally reserved for ex-lovers. the problem with both holding on to spite and feeling as though you must abandon your resolutions because of a few slip ups is that the only one youre really punishing is yourself. allow yourself a modicum of guilt but certainly dont let shame settle in.
guilt and shame, though often conflated, serve a different emotional utility. guilt is an intersubjectively agreed upon placement of blame whereas shame is something you feel when you get caught masturbating. guilty is a label people give to you, ashamed is something you feel. the two are not mutually inclusive. often people are guilty of committing some social transgression or another but feel no shame for it. they just go on living their life as if nothing happened. a certain football player and an incident in the nineties springs to mind*. how this relates to resolutions is that too often when we falter in our quest for self-improvement the ensuing shame devalues the goal itself. in our failure to improve ourselves we no longer feel worthy of improvement.
whats the solution? fucked if i know. the closest ive come is to recognise the guilt and leave the shame out. dont be so hard on yourself and learn to forgive yourself. its not what you do once and awhile that matters, its the habits you keep that determines the most. that and walk your gimp weekly, at the very least.
* dan marino owes me thirty-five dollars stemming from an unpaid brunch tab in palm springs circa march 1993. the juice is running dan-o.