Is making New Year's resolutions still a viable option?
WE just don't make New Year's resolutions the way we used to. Perhaps it's the word ``resolution'' -- so strong, so rigid, so unequivocal. ``Resolution'' has none of that modern flex we favor, with generous, built-in amounts of ``maybe.''Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Instead of making New Year's resolutions, we are inclined to draw up lists of options. ``Option'' is a word with elasticity to it. You can change an option. You can even cancel an option. You certainly keep your options open, as opposed to your resolutions, which can close on Jan. 1 like a prison door.
One option for those who wish to avoid resolutions is to draw up an agenda. ``Agenda'' is a nice, civilized, completely erasable word -- the most unresolved word of all. An agenda improves by revision -- that is its nature. One can make the making -- and remaking -- of an agenda one's whole agenda for 1986 and feel nothing but virtuous.
``Resolutions'' is such a sobering word. It wears a frown, like a 19th-century father bending disapprovingly over your shoulder -- expecting the worst.
Resolutions are eye-contact commands, barked at your lazy self by your disciplined -- and unforgiving -- self.
On the other hand, options and agenda come in the shape of friendly questions, delivered with an arm around the shoulder:
``Say buddy, how about getting places on time this year? Just a little more on time. No big deal.''
``Hey, man, have you ever thought of cleaning up the mess under your bed? All those diet soda cans and last summer's sports pages! But don't turn into a neatnik or anything like that.''
Resolutions are not only too authoritarian for our '80s taste, they are too definite:
``Answer your mail.''
``Visit your mother.''
``Brush your teeth.''
This is scary stuff -- stuff you can keep score on.
Those of us who still bother with resolutions tend to specialize in attitudes rather than deeds. We avoid hard, specific instructions, like ``Get up early'' or ``Save money'' -- preferring a soft generalization every time, like ``I will work on my relationships.'' Nobody can prove failure (or success) with a resolution like that. Option-listing and agenda-setting allow you to float free-form. In a pinch, one asks oneself what one's goals are, and that's quite goal enough for a year.
There's another reason for the decline of New Year's resolutions. A resolution is the lonely act of an individual, calling himself or herself to account. How quaint! Nowadays we have ``support systems.'' We practice self-improvement in groups.
Were you about to write, ``I will read more books in '86'' on your New Year's list? Forget it. Just wait, if you please, for the American Library Association or somebody else to frame your resolve for you and push you collectively into ``Swann's Way'' or ``War and Peace'' during National Read-a-Book Week.
There is an official day, or week, or month, for every possible impulse for reform you can think of -- and a group dedicated to enforcement. Whether you are determined to quit smoking or to learn to love the humpback whale, somebody with the stationery to prove it has printed up your resolution for you and scheduled it. Free literature upon request.
New Year's resolutions have turned into a year-around industry, typified by bumper stickers. You cannot resolve to hug your child without finding your heart's impulse mass-produced, in color.
Will New Year's resolutions finally fade away and disappear, becoming as obsolete as the Babylonian calendar? One hopes not. Consider the alternatives. Broken resolutions are better than no resolutions at all -- and anything's better than a late December when the only list in town is dedicated to choosing the 10 worst-dressed men and women of 1985. A Wednesday and Friday column