Sunday, January 2, 2011

The New Year's Resolution

I've been away from a real computer (vacation with a netbook, and I can't write on a netbook).  I had a great time, and I got to do what I said I'd do - I did one arm pushups at a party to impress women (didn't work, and I was pretty drunk, but that's what one arm pushups are for).  Yes, my wife was there.  Yes, I almost fell on my face, but that's mostly because of the alcohol.  I meant to write this post up before the New Year, which would have made more sense, but I didn't, so here it is, better late than never:

The New Year's Resolution (hereby NYR) is one of the more overused and mostly ridiculed methods of self-motivation.  In our culture we regard NYR's as being almost bound to fail - we assume that people will make a boatload of them, then forget all about them by February.  And for the most part they're right.

The basic problem people have with NYR's is that they don't conceptualize them properly.  A properly thought out NYR can be very powerful - it has a built in reinforcement that makes it stronger the longer you stick to it.  Here's how it works:

  1. Your NYR must be negative.  You have to give something up - grains, dairy, alcohol, porn, whatever.  Don't try namby pamby NYR's like "I'll work out at least 3X a week."  There is no single moment where you violate that one - the violation is spread out over a week.  A properly constructed NYR has to have very clear failure moments.  You'll see why.
  2. Your NYR must be absolute.  You must resolve to avoid something completely and forever - no "I'll only eat grains during my cheat meal one a week."  That kind of NYR is too easily adapted on the fly - the cheat meal becomes two cheat meals, then three the week of your birthday, and soon you've slid into noncompliance.
  3. Your NYR should be public.  Tell all your friends about it.  Tell your enemies too.  Even tell complete strangers.
So here's what you do:  
  1. Decide what your NYR is going to be (remember: negative, absolute, and public).  I suggest wheat, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, or diet soda as good starts.
  2. Tell everyone about it.  But you have to say it like this:  "I haven't had [item X] since 2010."
Be aware that this magical statement ("I haven't had [item X] since 2010") will sound a little dumb as you tell it to people right now, since you'll be bragging about a streak of 2 days.  However, as time goes on, your bragging rights will increase.  By June you'll be sounding pretty cool... or like an asshole with a modicum of willpower, which is almost as good.  By September all your friends will think you're hardcore.  By next January you'll be completely badass.

What's so great about this?  If you cheat at any time between now and eternity you lose all claim to being a badass that you'll have built up.  If you cheat next week... feh.  No big deal, I guess.  But if you can make it to February it becomes harder to break your NYR, not easier, because you'll be giving up a greater and greater claim to awesomeness.   As March rolls around it's even harder to cheat.  Sure, you can drink a Diet Coke in March, but then you'll have to start telling people "I haven't had diet soda since March," and who the hell cares about March?  Nowhere near as awesome as "I haven't had diet soda since the last decade."

Since I was too lazy to post this two days ago I will give you one time permission to start your NYR today and lie about it.  Cut out the wheat or Nutrasweet or whatever as of right now and tell people you started last year.  (Actually, be careful about this sort of lie, if you do it enough the whole thing loses motivational power).    But you have to start immediately - no reading this blog for the first time in April and fudging your start date.

Pick your poison and resolve to give it up, now and forever.  And tell everybody who cares what you're doing.  Scratch that - tell everybody who won't actually hit you because of how much they don't care what you're doing.  You might be though of as an ass, but you'll be a healthier and more fit ass.  And that's what matters.

Please post your NYR's to comments!



  1. Your first pushup was fine; on the 2nd, your weird toe shoes slipped.

  2. One more consequence of wearing the Vibrams everywhere I go. Oh well. Still worth it.