You've just spent the last 26 days, give or take, indulging in every kind of excess: eating too many cookies and chocolate-covered treats; spending too much money on gifts (damn you, SkyMall); missing out on sleep from late-night social engagements; and even going out of your way to be friendly to that irritating co-worker who wears her reindeer sweater without a hint of irony. You cannot take another minute of this flabby, over-budget, jaw-grinding existence resembling a Gus Van Sant movie that you call your life. You have had enough. You have got to make some changes, you mumble as a made-for-TV holiday movie with a name like Christmas Miracle at Heartland Mountain plays and another handful of peppermint chocolate-dipped pretzels disappears down your gullet. Enter the New Year's resolution.
Historians believe resolutions began with Romans who worshipped Janus, the god of thresholds signified by his two faces, one facing forward (the future) and the other backward (the past). Resolutions of that time revolved around moral sentiments where people agreed, for instance, not to kill one another. At least, they promised not to kill one another unless it involved a stadium full of people and some really pissed off circus animals. Today, our resolutions are a bit more benign and center around self-improvement, or, to be more precise, self-spectacularization. Each year, we pledge to transform ourselves into a super human, a being that is part Bill Gates mogul, part Michelle Obama arms, part Halle Berry stunner and part Oprah. Each year we crash and burn. Why? It's not for lack of intention or the unwillingness to try (unless of course it is, in which case resolutions are the least of your issues). Most resolutions fail because of unrealistic expectations and outlandish, extreme methods. But, you say, I'm different. This year is going to be different. You're not. It won't. Embrace the middle, lower the bar, keep it real. Here's how. Let's look at the three main resolution areas:
1. Exercise: Studies show that fitness is most people's number one New Year's resolution. It is the Holy Grail, the Best Motion Picture Oscar, the cure for diabetes of resolutions. And often, it seems you have a better chance of obtaining any of those things than losing those ten pounds in time for your February singles' cruise.
Keep it Real: You can get healthier, but not overnight and not by spending six hours on a kamikaze workout regime with a personal trainer who refers to you as her "bucket." Instead, resolve to take the stairs a couple of days a week, resolve to have two glasses of wine with lunch instead of the usual three, resolve to take a yoga class after you scope it out for flexible hotties. Set goals you don't need a lot of expensive and heavy equipment to reach.
2. Relationships: This is your year, you vow, tears streaming down your face, Love Actually permanently lodged in your Blu-ray player. You will meet the person of your dreams, you will have a plus one for brunch and other major holidays; you will not accept your mother's gift subscription to Match.com... again. You are clearly suffering from Romcom fatigue. Look, you're 37, single and married to your career. Love is not idling by the fax machine (who even USES a fax machine?), it is not waiting for you in the form of one of the crumbling fossils sitting on your co-op board.
Keep it Real: No one deserves love, romance and everything sparkly when it comes to relationships more than you. But you might stop chasing after the prince or princess in order to enjoy locking lips with a few frogs. Resolve to have some good, old-fashioned, judgement and guilt-free sex, resolve to actually talk to that cute person you ride with in the elevator (something other than what happened on Homeland, OK?), resolve to stop fantasizing about your therapist. There are so many ways to let the Universe know you are ready for monogamous boning when you become less concerned with unobtainable ideals and more willing to embrace mediocrity.
3. Finance: Debt! You actually see the word in the style of a Cathy cartoon: AAACK! You are done, done, done with the carousel of credit card bills, with watching friends put money into houses, cars and children when you're still paying off the Tahoe ski trip from three years ago. You are going to develop a cash-only mentality; you're going to double your 401K contribution; you're going to stop dating creeps for the free food and drinks. In the time it took you to read this you've already bid on a sweet Coach bag on eBay and ordered a foot massager that syncs to your iPad. Foolish mortal.
Keep it Real: Everyone from your mother to Suze Orman (who is basically your mother with a more stylish hair cut) wants you to have financial security. Making smarter decisions with your money frees you up from worry and creates the kind of stability that helps you to have success in other areas of your life. But tearfully slicing your credit cards in front of the Starbucks barista is not the way to go. Resolve to use coupons, resolve to buy generic (I know, sacrifices are hard), resolve to turn your money woes into social good by selling off some of the extra blood, eggs or other vital fluids taking up biological space. Financial control is within your grasp, you will just have to let go of the Louboutins first.
In addition to setting manageable steps to achieve your resolutions, it is also important that you go easy on yourself when the inevitable backslide happens. No one is perfect, especially not you at least not this year, not yet. I mean, you probably want to table that until next year, at the earliest. Happy New Year and may all of your resolutions come true, especially those that take little effort and don't really disrupt your life in any way at all!