Breaking the bad habit of New Year's resolutions

December 28, 2004|By Cynthia Tucker

ATLANTA -- I'm making only one New Year's resolution this year: I will make no New Year's resolutions. I have finally resolved that New Year's resolutions only frustrate me since I never keep them.

Oh, I've tried.

Take the resolution about being more organized -- one that I've been making every other year for three decades. I've bought calendars; I've read books on time management; I have several early versions of personal data assistants in a drawer somewhere. (The instruction books were so intimidating I never learned to program them.)

The simple fact is that I'm disorganized by personality; only a brain transplant would change that essential part of my nature. So those who know me well have learned to call me to remind me of appointments (yes, I keep appointments in my calendar, but I can't remember to look at it), to step over the clutter that inevitably falls off the edge of my desk and never to send me the only copy of an important document.

Thank heaven for electronic airline tickets, which have liberated me from my old pre-travel routine of digging desperately through the trash for tickets I inadvertently threw away. (That's the sort of thing that happens whenever I make a frantic effort to clean up my surroundings.) Ditto automatic mortgage deductions, which have dramatically improved my credit rating.

I've also made New Year's resolutions to stop cursing (what a #*&% idea that was), to eat more broccoli and brussels sprouts and to watch less stupid TV -- stuff like the late-night offerings on the Sci Fi channel. (Whatever happened to that guy who talked to the dead, anyway? I miss him.)

About a month into the misery of holding my tongue at minor frustrations, I gave up. I figured if I could remember to practice restraint in front of my mother, that was good enough. As for the dumb TV, I happen to like it. That sci-fi show where all the aliens are beautiful humans who speak perfect English is one of my favorites.

There is a certain undeniable appeal in the idea of wiping the slate and getting a fresh start. And the cult of self-improvement that has taken hold over the last couple of decades has upped the ante. Perhaps that's why the habit of New Year's resolutions is hard to break. For a month or so, we can believe that we're becoming brand-new creatures --healthier, smarter, thinner, prettier, wrinkle-free and more thrifty to boot.

Until the inevitable crash-and-burn moment of stepping on the scales to realize you've gained, not lost weight; of watching 12 straight hours of an Outer Limits marathon rather than reading the three-volume biography of LBJ; of losing the notebook with the beautifully organized to-do list.

I'm all for self-improvement, but after years of failed resolutions, I've learned better than to believe that I will suddenly eschew Krispy Kreme doughnuts or speak six languages or play Tchaikovsky flawlessly. Nor will I ever like brussels sprouts.

So I've lowered my expectations. I'm keeping the profanity, but perhaps I can pace myself -- be a little more patient. It doesn't matter if somebody cut me off in traffic or swiped the parking space I was waiting for. There'll be another somewhere in the parking lot. I won't curse until my computer freezes on deadline for the second time. Fewer expletives certainly count as an improvement.

I've stopped beating myself up over my addiction to junk TV. Instead, I've taken to setting aside a Saturday a month for an orgy of reruns of the original Star Trek, the 50th viewing of Sigourney Weaver in Alien and its multiple spin-offs, the first, second and third seasons of Alias. (I can watch as many Law and Order reruns as I like. That's highbrow drama.) Those are guilt-free Saturdays. That leaves plenty of time to tackle Bayard Rustin's biography or short stories by Alice Munro.

As for getting organized, forget it. My friends and family members know that I'll never send Christmas gifts and birthday cards on time. Ain't gonna happen. I used to promise them that next year I'd get it right.

Until I resolved to stop kidding myself.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column generally appears Mondays in The Sun.

Columnist Steve Chapman is on vacation.

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