Goals for the New Year

What is this immense cultural guilt that requires of us all that we basically resolve to get a new life every January 1? Somehow the idea we aren’t good enough the way we are is ingrained in us. I would have blamed the Puritans, but a quick Google says the practice dates back to the Babylonians. I’m sort of glad centuries of self-improvement guilt has gone before us. Maybe we have that to thank for indoor plumbing and cruise control.

Maybe we can always be better. Maybe we really aren’t good enough the way we are. People do tend to be lazy left to their own devices. Once a society reaches the point of cable television and refrigerated beer, excess guilt may even be required to achieve any sort of motivation at all.

Still, the knowledge that this is a generalized cultural guilt that serves some purpose toward the common good doesn’t help much with the individualized guilt. Every year I say I won’t do it. I just won’t participate. I’m not making resolutions I’m bound to break and then feel worse about. Every year I give in. I won’t even talk about what kinds of resolutions I make. They aren’t original. They’re the same as yours.

That’s why I was glad when one of my Facebook friends, Glenda Jones, said she was making goals, not resolutions. Goals I can handle. I make goals I fail to meet every day. There’s nothing special about that. I also make goals I do meet every day. Looking back over the past five years, I’ve probably broken every resolution I’ve made, but I’ve done a lot too. It’s all been okay.

So I’ve resolved this year to set goals, not resolutions. Only it turns out my goals sound a lot like resolutions. Get healthier. Establish better balance between work and family and everything else. Read the right books. Finish projects I’ve started in the past few years. Devote more consistent time to personal writing. Put together a new poetry manuscript. Exercise more. Take more time to relax. Do a better job of managing money. Get my chaotic schedule under control. Keep my house in better order. Scale back on commitments. Ratchet up on productivity. Be a better friend. Cook organic, gourmet meals. Be a better teacher. Learn, learn, learn.

Here’s our problem. The goals are contradictory. Individually, they aren’t bad. As a collection, they’re insane.

New Year’s does that. It makes us insane with the need to improve. Some of us who came to this Babylonian guilt by way of Puritan influences, go a little extra insane with the feeling that we need to be better than we are.

A well-balanced person would look at my list and decide to pick one or two to start with. Let me know how that works out for you.

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