Resolutions, Intentions, and Luck
For the last couple of weeks, Barbara and I have been that couple at the gym. No, I don’t mean the hot couple (although we are definitely that), I mean the couple that shows up at the beginning of the new year with eager eyes, ready to tackle getting fit. Or at least, fitter. And it’s not because I want to get fitter for reasons of vanity. I mean, we already are the hot couple at the gym.
No, it’s about longevity.
I have health reasons to exercise and get in better shape. I am motivated by the desire to be around longer. After a lifelong run of perfect labs and objectively excellent health, time has finally come for me, as it comes for us all. Treating my body like a superfund site has had, after 50 years, predictable (if delayed) consequences. I must change things or risk serious consequences. And I have a 7 year old and a new grandchild. Barb and I worked really, really hard to find our way back to one another after separating. I am not throwing those gifts away.
I am afraid of failing though. More than a little. And I would be in good company. Some studies suggest that as many as 91% of people that make resolutions fail to keep them.
Part of the problem is that I am terrible at resolutions. For me, resolutions are often just a list of shit I have no chance of actually doing. New Year’s resolutions are usually just a historical record of future failure. I do not eat healthier. I don’t drink eight 8 ounce glasses of water a day. I have not finished the novel. The fact that I join with the vast majority of people in my failure is cold comfort.
My resolutions are usually doomed for a few reasons. Some of these are personal - I tend to chafe against expectations, even ones I have for myself. And some of the reasons are structural. The way we collectively think about resolutions is wrong in a lot of ways. We think of resolutions as some kind of iron-clad guarantee. I *will* lose 20 pounds. We think in absolutes, and we are overly confident we will do what we say we will do, when much of the time we don’t.
Our resolutions are often too rigid. We have been conditioned by capitalism to believe that goals are only valuable if they are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely). Goals that are dreamy, vague, aspirational, or otherwise not SMART, are deemed frivolous at best, invalid at worst. Goals in our society tend to only matter if they add “value”, can be tracked, and if they become promises kept. We internalize that message and think of ourselves as failures if we don’t have a list of SMART goals ready on January 1, complete with an Excel spreadsheet to track our progress.
In reality, the world is more complex, and more variable, than has been suggested to us. The world is certainly more chaotic than we like to think. The last few years have reminded us of that. Shit happens. Things change. Priorities shift. Plans don’t always work out.
I humbly suggest a shift in how we see things. Instead of thinking in terms of resolutions, I try to think about intentions. Intentions are ways of thinking and seeing we want to embody. They are less about concrete actions and more about perceptions. Intentions are, if you will, DUMB goals. They are Diffuse, Unstructured, Marginal, and Blithesome. They can not be tracked in an Excel spreadsheet.
I want to accept that my goal to be healthier is, in many ways, a DUMB goal. I want to be able to balance eating better, exercising, and drinking water with the fact that sometimes ice cream is delicious, exercise hurts, and plain water sucks. Trying to turn my desire to be healthier into a checklist of specific practices WILL fail. And I want to give myself a little more grace than that.
Plus, what good would it be to live another 50 years and be miserable for every single minute of that?
I have heard a lot of people wish one another luck in the new year. Some have even wished me luck on my journey toward getting in better shape. I appreciate it, but I don’t really think that luck is a thing.
I don’t believe that we are blessed with good things by happenstance. I don’t think that if we have a four leaf clover or a horseshoe or toss salt over a shoulder that good things will suddenly happen.
On the other hand, I don’t really think that what happens to us is a function of how hard we work. I know lots of people who work their ass off and don’t have shit. Structural impediments are a real thing, and they can have tremendous impacts for people. Sometimes people can do everything right and still fail because the system is stacked against them.
I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, as it is for most things. Sometimes we find ourselves in the right place at the right time and something awesome happens. And we can prepare for that moment by working hard and being ready.
In the end, much of what happens to us - maybe even all of it - is completely random. The universe isn’t out to get us when bad things happen. The gods don’t hold us in special favor when good things happen. Shit happens. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. And those are judgments anyway. What makes something good or bad?
I intend to get healthier because it gives me the best chance of being around longer. AND I will treat each day that I have with the people I love as a special gift and be grateful that I have it. No luck needed.
May it ever be so.