Maybe it’s age, or the cynicism that can sometimes come with age, but this year I didn’t want to make grand pronouncements about how on the stroke of midnight I was going to magically change into a new person, a better person. One who is tidy, organised, always, always on time, and never ever misses a single day of writing, because oh my gosh, Claire, what kind of a writer are you if you can’t even sit down for five minutes a day and do what is supposed to be the thing you love the most?
I’ve tried in the past. I love the New Year and its blank state. But I fail almost immediately, and after this many years of doing so I thought I would try something different.
You see, beneath the layers of laziness that seem to have built up over the last few years, lurks a bit of an obsessive compulsive type. A perfectionist, even. If I say I’m going to do something every day, and by the second week of January I have already failed at it, then what is the point? The year is a write-off already.
And let’s face it, 1st January is not usually a good day to start being Uber Productive and spring out of bed at the crack of dawn to do all the myriad things you have suddenly committed to doing every single day. Even if you are not hungover, you will likely be sleep-deprived from the parties the night before. Not the best state of mind for cracking open that first page of your language learning textbook.
Maybe you’ve decided to never sleep with your iPhone next to you, because it leads to periodic waking up to check Twitter and to the first half hour of your day being sucked into the internet vortex: a laudable choice. But 1st January is still holiday time. What if you want to laze around in bed and play around on Facebook for a bit and wish everyone you know a happy new year? What if, given that is still the holidays, that is actually okay? Or, say you’ve decided to get better about getting up in the mornings. What sane person decides to start getting up earlier right in the middle of the season when many living creatures are hibernating? It’s cold; it’s dark. The springtime seems a more reasonable time for this kind of thing.
You get the idea.
So this year, I’ve set the bar low.
I’ve made a very long list of things I want to do this year. LIke Skype certain friends more, blog more, and yes, sometimes sleep without my iPhone. But you know what I haven’t done? I haven’t used the word “every”. Instead, I have lowered my expectations. I have said, I will work on my writing 200 times this year. And I will make a mark on the list when I have done so, so I can see the progress.
200? That’s only about half the days in the year!
Well, it’s a little over half, actually. If I make it, I will have written on more days than I will have not written.
With this more-than-achievable goal, I have built in time off for weekends and holidays, for days when I am ill and days I am travelling, and days when all I can think about is the pesky essay due the next week. And next year, I can up the goal slightly. My competitive gene also kicks in when I am doing well. If I see myself coming close to the 200, I may well decide “let’s see if I can make it to 250!”.
I’ve followed a similar pattern for many of my other goals. For things I am not good at, like exercise and abstaining from the iPhone, I am not going to even tell you how low I have set the bar. But I want to actually make the goal. I want to experience doing those things, reap their benefits, and let that motivate me, rather than be kicked around by a crippling fear of failure, self-loathing, and guilt. I am, in other words, going to have grace for myself. See if that works.
The definition of madness, says Donna Moss in the West Wing (quoting someone else, but whatever) is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I think I’m done with that. It’s time to try something different.