Sunday, January 9, 2011

New Year's Resolution

It's that time of year again. The time to make promises that make you feel good about yourself for a while, the kind that get you to buy gym memberships that will never be used and diet cookbooks that will never get read.

New Years Resolutions raise many interesting issues. Why do we make them? And why do we continue making them even in the face of near universal failure?

I think it's because we seek perfection, and the New Year makes us think about ways that we are not perfect. We are creatures that desire to be something we are not. And we think that if we're really, really sure about the kind of creatures we want to be for one day (Jan 1), then we can make ourselves into them. If we want to be a fit, healthy-eating, on-time, family-oriented, non-procrastinating person, then all we have to do is declare we will be such on January the First, and, come January the Second, that is what we shall be.

It's rather audacious. But we, alone in the Cosmos, are unsatisfied with what we are. And we fail and fail again at self-improvement, yet we try and try again. Like some persistent tank engine, we continue to tell ourselves "I think I can" when all evidence would support the assertion, "I can't."

We, as a culture, are so bad at self-improvement, that we often assert that it cannot be done at all. For example, in LA, a company is very effectively marketing bariatric surgery with the following: "Diets Fail! Lap Band Works!" People compare willpower to fuel in a car, and when you use it up, you can't do anything. And so people don't try, and the prophecy fulfills itself.

But we, as a race, have produced some pretty incredible will-ers. The Desert Fathers would go without food and water for long periods of time; Francis of Assisi went without clothing for periods; monks would wade waist deep into the North Sea and pray for hours in the freezing waters; Johnathan Edwards (the theologian) would study so intensely that he would miss multiple meals. I'm sure other traditions have similar characters. It's not that people can't do it, it's just that Americans can't. And I'm as guilty as any other. I don't exercise like I should. I don't spend time with God. And I want that to change.

One 'trick' that people used to use that we don't anymore is peer pressure. At least we don't often use it for good things. We rarely ask friends and strangers to hold us accountable for our actions (in economic terms, few of us are "complex hyperbolic discounters"). So I will enlist you, my invisible audience, to aid me with my self-improvement. I commit to three goals, all very tangible and objective, and I will post my progress on these three goals in the postscript of my blog every week. That way I have no excuse. If I screw up, you see it. A few rules: I can't get more than 100% in a period (no storing up), Week 1 is 1/3-1/9, I can't do make-ups, and I can't lie ;).

I have three resolutions:

Resolution the First: spend 30 minutes with God every day.
Resolution the Second: exercise 90 minutes per week.
Resolution the Third: write at least one blog entry per week.

1. 7/7 days; 2. 90/90 minutes; 3. 1/1 weeks

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