If New Year’s resolutions are fun for you, I'm glad you are so well-adjusted, please fuck off back to the Type A Convention. Just kidding, everyone is beautiful and valid and should do whatever thing helps them be a healthier and happier and more loving person. But resolutions don’t work for me, and as far as I can tell from living in the world, they don’t work for a lot of other people, either.
FIRST OF ALL: The new year is when you start seeing ads for gyms, weight-loss supplements, weight-loss plans, weight-hiding articles of clothing, food-shaming ads for other (calorie-free) foods—nah. Fuck that. I’ve lived that disordered eating life and I want no part of any collective enterprise that proliferates that shit. Eat food. All food is fine, food does not have moral value.
FOOD DOES NOT HAVE MORAL VALUE.
ANYWAY. That’s why New Year’s resolutions suck. But this article is called “fuck resolutions” so let me be clear about my take on those: for some reason just acting on your own desires isn’t working for you, so you make your desires into an external force and call that a resolution.
Resolutions are shame-based, coercive tools we use to try and bully ourselves into behaviors we don’t really want to do. And for that reason, they piss me off when I think about making them. I hate being told what to do, and resolutions are just another form of someone telling me what to do. In this case it’s me, but still, I Prefer Not To. I don’t take bullying from anyone, and that includes myself.
If this resonates with you, fantastic. Hi! You and me aren’t lazy slobs who can’t change.We just don’t like hating ourselves the way we are.
Case in point: I have never been good at exercise. Trying to run used to make me feel so bad about myself, I would cry. I wanted to be fitter and healthier, like other people. But I’d get a stitch in my side after a few hundred feet, I’d be slow as hell, I’d go breathless and red-faced. I would think “I’m shitty and out of shape and gross,” and I would quit. And then I would feel worse, because I couldn’t do something just because it was hard. I was a lump, a slob, an unlovable failure.
Then a few years ago, I don’t know why, I started to feel like maybe the world was heading for an apocalypse and I should be able to run on my two legs in order to, like, evade human predators and packs of wild dogs, or to get to a message across the wasteland in a timely fashion. So I decided I should try again, as slow as I needed, just a couple miles at a time. I would think about my favorite post-apocalyptic hero building a new future (and just fucking try. It wasn’t about how my body looked or how much willpower I had anymore; it was about surviving late capitalism.
And I got to where I could run a mile, then a couple miles, then a lot of miles. I could run with other people and not feel deeply ashamed of myself. I signed up for this half marathon, and excuse me very much, but it was fun as fuck! I busted out the miles to my favorite music and thought about how great it felt to be doing this. As I climbed the last hill I cried because I was so proud of myself. I kept thinking, over and over, “I wanted to do this, for me. No one else made me do it, and now I’m doing it. I set this goal and I achieved it.” And shit, I needed that. Because that was at the exact same time that I was deciding whether to drop out of graduate school, and I felt like shit about it.
I was in a Ph.D. program for like nine or ten years, I don’t even know anymore. I went because I loved reading and writing, teaching and ideas, and people told me I should. After a couple of years, it became clear that I hated a lot of things about it, about academia, and about myself when I was doing it. But I kept doing it, because at that point I was ABD—all but dissertation. Just had to write the damn thing. (And teach, for money, but anywayyyyyyy—)
I moved to Arkansas when my partner got a job here. I started working in birth and taking nursing classes. I was emotionally done with grad school. But people kept saying—and I thought it was true,—that if I just made myself finish the degree I’d be glad. So I set timers for writing every day. I found accountability partners. I designed special, pleasant work spaces. But y’all: I got literally nothing done, for a year and a half. Literal, actual nothing. I got more writing done when I was poor as shit and commuting between Charlottesville and Baltimore twice a week, than I did sitting in my lovely and comfortable house with no responsibilities other than to write.
I made myself cry. I pushed myself hard. I guilted and shamed and gave myself locker-room speeches and pep talks. I raged about all the things that sucked about academia, universities, me, my research, my situation. I wanted to prove to myself, and to everyone I knew, that I could do it, without thinking about whether I wanted to. I got more and more pissed off and self-loathing with every day that I didn’t finish it.
Then, in the middle of running the half marathon, it occurred to me: running this far is hard, but I’m doing it, because I want to. I don’t actually want to finish my dissertation. Maybe I could, maybe not. But that wasn’t the point. What I needed was to admit that I, myself, didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t doing it for me. And now I don’t do it, and wouldn’t you know, I’m a happy and capable person when I’m not being shamed and bullied into something I don’t want to do. FUCKING WILD, huh?
So my thought is: when you consider goals for yourself, maybe think things like:
why do I have this goal?
do I want to achieve it, or do I just think I should?
how will I ensure that I love myself even if I don’t achieve it?
This is not me saying “everyone can do this!” or anything. But choosing my own goals based on what I want for myself, and knowing that my value isn’t dependent on their outcome, is what works for me. Then I have the freedom to let myself try, and let myself fail, and I still love myself. I want to stop drinking soda; there’s nothing wrong with me if I still drink soda, though. I want to be able to run, but it’s okay if it feels too hard today. I have to remind myself all the time that’s not a matter of whether I can or can’t do something—and what that means about me—but whether I want to do it, and whether I choose to.