Same old you
January 1, 2022 6:54 AM   Subscribe

The core of the trouble is that schemes for constructing a New You – whether in every area of life, or just one major one, such as your relationship with your children, or your physical fitness – are always devised by the Old You, who by their own admission has some pretty glaring issues. How self-improvement attempts may make you feel worse, from Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian.

Burkeman's article (called "Aim low" in the print version) is part of a Guardian package on why we shouldn't bother to try to conquer our worst habits in January. The articles include:

100 lowish-effort ways to improve your life ... slightly.

Be bad better (how to get the best out of your worst habits)

Confessions of a die-hard smoker

Please note: Your mileage may vary. Happy 2022.
posted by Bella Donna (37 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I used to be full curmudgeon about New Year's Resolutions, which I theorized as a societally accepted way to make only symbolic attempts at improving yourself. If you really want to stop smoking or work out at the gym, I reasoned, you'd pick any old day and just do it, not make a big show out of THIS YEAR CHANGES EVERYTHING THIS IS THE NEW ME and, 6 weeks later, oh ha ha, of course I've backslid, like we all did. But I have read enough anniversary posts on quitting drinking for Jan. 1 that I've come around to admit that, for some people, they really can be important and motivational.
posted by thelonius at 7:29 AM on January 1 [13 favorites]

My brain has betrayed me roughly one zillion times over the years. Probably the ADHD; maybe other stuff. Regardless, I found the idea of drastically scaling back expectations about change and aiming low, if aiming at all, to be a refreshing approach to a new year.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:29 AM on January 1 [9 favorites]

I definitely prefer setting goals for a year, rather than "new you" resolutions. "Do this specific thing at least once a week" sorts of goals seem to work best for me.
posted by Foosnark at 8:33 AM on January 1 [11 favorites]

I love setting resolutions knowing there’s zero chance I’ll achieve it. It’s amusing to me, like a harmless challenge to try something different.

I think it comes from growing up Catholic and having to make those Lenten “sacrifices.”
posted by glaucon at 8:38 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]

Was listening to the radio yesterday, and one presenter asked another, "What's your New Year's Resolution?"

The second presenter paused for a second, then said, "Just to get through the day."

Works for me.
posted by reynir at 9:05 AM on January 1 [26 favorites]

I love the bit at the end about the reflective practice of assuming some parts of us will never change. I plan to use this as my journaling prompt for today (which, as it happens, is one of my new proposed habits for 2022).
posted by johnxlibris at 9:13 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]

Resolutions are both useless without self-knowledge and superfluous with it. Know Thyself is where effective self-improvement always has to begin.

Also, change is hard work. The entire point of habits is to reduce cognitive load to tolerable proportions, and growing new ones takes sustained, focused, deliberate effort. Most of us live in circumstances that require us to operate fairly close to full cognitive capacity most of the time. So if we're going to invest effort into making our own lives better in the medium to long term then there's always going to be a need to shove other things aside - sometimes quite a lot of things, even some that are very important to us - to get that done. Just unavoidable. Any resolution that doesn't take that need into account is pretty much doomed.
posted by flabdablet at 9:15 AM on January 1 [26 favorites]

So I looked back at my New Year's resolution list for 2021 and there were over 20 twenty things on there for various parts of my life and holy shit, no wonder I noped out within a month. (And yet I still kept it posted on my home office wall anyway, making me feel very very small for the remaining 11 months.)

2022 is the year of KISS (Keep It Simple, Sister)--I have stopped using Stupid in that acronym because I am trying to be nicer to me. Pick a small thing or two for January, and celebrate when you follow through. Don't worry about February or any of the months after until they get here. Right now pick two or three small (keyword) things you would like to change or improve or add or remove from your life and just focus on those for the month.

One foot in front of the other. One day at a time. I can't wait to be surprised by where I land this time next year.
posted by Kitteh at 9:18 AM on January 1 [14 favorites]

Benjamin Franklin had a workable approach, which involves giving your resolution a dry run in the old year, not scolding yourself for slip-ups, focusing on not more than one goal, and recognizing that change is a project, not an event, and that projects take time.

(I learned of Franklin's "old year's resolutions" via an article by Indiana University Kokomo English professor Mark Canada and IU psychology professor Christina Downey on The Conversation, a nonprofit with the excellent mission of making academic writing available to a general readership.)
posted by virago at 10:22 AM on January 1 [6 favorites]

as a swimmer, I've learned to take Januarys off. The pools are overcrowded with the resolved. But it's back to normal by Feb-1.
posted by philip-random at 10:23 AM on January 1 [17 favorites]

I'm definitely not a big Resolution person but I'm definitely a big believer that everyone has an internally significant (often socially set) dates to start something. I don't know if it's the ADHD or if i had an early insight that making yourself feel bad is a waste of time but i never really thought about making any. I do have a running list of to-dos that would eventually become habits. I think that's the way to go, along with, 'nothing wrong with trying something you've been thinking about more than once'. But very deliberately i don't phrase it as self-improvement even if it is? As in, I've usually argued the pros and cons of it with myself that if i want to do it, it's because it's objectively good (e.g. exercise) and not because 'i could stand to lose weight'. I think 'fun' is an important internal value i never really lost.
posted by cendawanita at 10:24 AM on January 1 [3 favorites]

I had a realization this past month that a big reason that all of my self-improve-y goals haven't worked for quite some time is that I am *too stressed* to do them. When I am feeling like everything is falling down and it's an emergency and I can't justify doing anything but tackling the biggest fire, of course I'm not going to be meal prepping and stretching and doing my physical therapy and saving money etc. etc. etc. and the feeling that I SHOULD be doing them only adds to my feeling of "OH fuuuuuuuuuuu it's allllllll horriblllllllle"

So for this year I only have one goal (besides, uh, stay alive and stay employed and keep my family alive) and that is to work on lowering my stress. I can't prevent the world from burning down but I can try to calm myself, whether that's from reading comforting and funny books, making my space more calming (my anxiety is exacerbated by visual clutter) and spending time burning nice candles and smelling nice soaps and drinking delicious teas and wearing soft clothes. And beyond all of those tactics, I'm going to track down a psychiatrist and see if I can get back on anti-anxiety medication, which did help me in the past.

I have a sneaking suspicion that focusing on that will actually make some of the other self-improve-y things flow naturally, but I am specifically ONLY focusing on calm and comfort for myself.
posted by rogerroger at 10:36 AM on January 1 [17 favorites]

My new year’s resolution is to keep showering twice a day as directed for the last four weeks of surgery recovery, because in all seriousness that’s a lot of showering, and my willpower for this sort of annoyance will be tenuously thin by the end of January. Given how much change I packed into 2021, I’m not really setting any other goals for myself, because seriously I need a break from goals for a while and I just want to exist for the year and not perform any optional transformations.

(This sounds like a math paper: “in section 202.2, we reduce the overall transformations necessary by pivoting the remaining problems around the whY-axis using a lazy Genederiene transform”. Heh.)
posted by Callisto Prime at 10:43 AM on January 1 [9 favorites]

A friend of mine came up with a genius resolution for the new year - she has decreed that "2022 is the Year Of Cheese." She announced that instead of a self-improvement kind of resolution, she was instead resolving to do a deep dive into cheese - learning more about cheese, trying new kinds of cheese, keeping cheese on hand, cooking with cheese, baking with cheese, just All Things Cheese.

The reaction to this was so fervent when she announced this on Facebook, and so many of us fell all over ourselves saying "can I join you on this sometimes" that she has created a Facebook group for us all.

Because, I mean. Cheese.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:27 AM on January 1 [27 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos, is the group named Cheeses Saves? Because I've always been a big believer in cheeses. (Not to be confused with this Cheeses, who is also excellent.)

The remark above about a lot of people having their sobriety dates on the first of the year led me to contemplate my own sobriety and how it worked; as it happens, mine is at the end of January, the occasion being my having a device put on my car (after my second DUI) that would require me to have zero blood alcohol in order to start it. That's not what kept me sober, though; that had much, much more to do with having the support of a peer group (primarily, although not exclusively, AA) that not only supported me in my sobriety journey but was forgiving of relapses and encouraged me to get back in the groove. Recovery (and, in the larger sense, at least for me, self-improvement) is other people.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:39 AM on January 1 [6 favorites]

Cheesemonger, a Life on the Wedge by Gordon Edgar, is a very fine book for anyone who wants to know more about cheese.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:37 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]

I'm here for this thread becoming about cheese.
posted by rogerroger at 12:39 PM on January 1 [11 favorites]

Metafilter New Year's Resolution: All threads must eventually become about cheese. For example, threads that mention Trump may start with discussing the Orange Cheeto himself, but must end with discussing the cheese dust on actual Cheetos. This will improve everyone's mood.
posted by dannyboybell at 12:45 PM on January 1 [5 favorites]

I've often gotten terribly discouraged with my efforts to improve my life. I want so much to be a high achieving super producer, but the reality is that I have chronic fatigue issues and lack the mental and physical stamina to perform at the level I want to. Again and again I have tried to set certain benchmarks and rules for myself and meet them, fail to do so, then given up and relapse into doing next to nothing all day.

But I keep right on trying new methods of getting more done and keeping myself on track, even though they fail most of the time. What helped was realizing that while perhaps nineteen times out of twenty the new methods don't work, or only work for awhile then stop working for me when the novelty wears off, there is that remaining five percent of the time where the new method works incredibly well, so well that it soon ceases to be something I need to be conscious of and put on a to do list and/or make myself do, and simply becomes part of how I operate.

For instance, soon after I moved to my very walkable neighbourhood in 2006, I decided that I was going to start combining my errand running with my daily one hour walk that I already did for exercise. It's so easy and convenient to make a quick stop at the bank, library, post office, cobbler, drugstore, dollar store, Home Depot, etc., that I immediately transformed myself from someone who struggled to return her library materials on time to someone who was actively looking around for errands before leaving the house for a walk, and was disappointed if she couldn't think of one to do. For the last fifteen years, I have been someone who is very much on top of her errands and I've never had to make any further resolutions concerning my errand-running.

And here's my latest organizational trick. Nearly a month ago I looked at my monthly expense lists in my planner and realized I wasn't abiding by my $175 monthly food budget at all -- as of November, there wasn't a single month in 2021 that I had stayed on or under budget. I decided I would begin taking a calculator to the store, jot down the price of everything I put into my cart beside the name of the item in the little notebook I use for my grocery lists, add it up myself before I checked out, and put things back if I was over my weekly limit (there's usually several items I am simply stocking up on for future use and don't need to use that week). I started doing this on my second weekly grocery store trip of December, and I knew immediately it would be one of those changes that stick, and that it would not only help me financially but would also help me with weight control. I didn't mind doing it at all -- I even rather enjoy the challenge of figuring out how well I can eat for $35 a week. I added up my December grocery bills last night and found I'd finished the month nearly $5 under budget -- and I didn't feel in the least deprived food-wise, either.

That realization that I was succeeding with new self-management ideas even 5% of the time was so encouraging and revelatory to me. I will never be a super producer, but I have the heart to keep trying new ways to get more done, to be more effective, because sometimes they work.

So yes, I make resolutions. Yes, a lot of them, most of them, will fail. But even a 5% success rate can and has changed my life.
posted by orange swan at 1:05 PM on January 1 [46 favorites]

Burkeman (Mefi’s Own!) also has a great book out called 4,000 Weeks. Best “self-improvement” book I’ve read.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:30 PM on January 1 [9 favorites]

One year, I actually kept it up for the whole year, every day, come rain or sunshine, I remembered my new year’s resolution and just did the thing I had set out to do: check out all the new entries on the icanhas.cheezburger LOLcats website. It was about 15 years ago, at peak LOLcats, and I had had enough of resolutions that just felt like they were meant to shame me.
posted by meijusa at 2:00 PM on January 1 [12 favorites]

Here's The Onion's brief, but savage, "Pros and Cons of Making New Year's Resolutions".
posted by orange swan at 3:37 PM on January 1 [7 favorites]

We were supposed to be trying to get *better*? Dammit, I should have read the manual.
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 3:45 PM on January 1 [7 favorites]

I like the Guardian approach. I'm a big fan of incrementalism (as opposed to "Clean All The Things!"). Start with a small improvement, make it a habit over a couple of weeks, proceed from there. A 2004 corporate-training example: Toast Kaizen.
posted by russilwvong at 4:05 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]

Burkeman (Mefi’s Own!) also has a great book out called 4,000 Weeks. Best “self-improvement” book I’ve read.

Huge second to this! I finished the book earlier today and it was full of the types of réalisations people are posting above.
posted by third word on a random page at 4:55 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]

Since I semi-retired, I've had better luck at resolutions and incremental change. I've done real well with some of my goals and look forward to taking additional steps this January.
posted by Ber at 5:04 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]

I can't speak to New Year's resolutions every year, but 30 years ago today I became a vegetarian on a combination dare/bet/resolution. My friends from school back then are amazed I've kept it up.
posted by nevercalm at 5:15 PM on January 1 [5 favorites]

One problem with the whole idea of NY resolutions is that it neglects the value that can be found from and in failure, and transforms the definition of success to something so narrow as to be something almost impossibly burdensome.

Maybe that’s two ideas. In 2022, I shall learn to count better…

Maybe we don’t need to succeed more ; maybe we need a chance to see failing as an experience that can be useful if we can move past the weight and shame we allow ourselves and others to make so much of.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 7:45 PM on January 1 [7 favorites]

A friend sent me the Guardian 100 list. There are some which are absolutely definitely not for me - 8: Send a voice note instead of a text, for instance. Also, 64 - why would I care if my cutlery is shiny? Clean is already a fairly high bar some days. I am not going to start hanging my clothes up, either (69). And I'm not sure the Guardian is reading the (British) room well with 70: Skinny-dip with friends.

I would like specific other people to follow 17: Don’t be weird about how to stack the dishwasher. I quite like the second half of 39: Send [postcards] even if you’re not on holiday. I need to remember 51, about writing to one's MP, after failing to do so this year about a particularly shameful piece of legislation. 100 reminded me that one of the contestants in the Celebrity Sewing Bee this week put a yellow back on a festive waistcoat; it was a total failure as a garment but the yellow was cheery.

The article links to another list from 2000, and it's interesting to see what's changed (95 about telephone boxes) and what hasn't (fruit, volunteering, writing to MPs). Some things definitely read Guardian Voice and just ask to be argued with.

In the Burkeman article, the forthcoming book by Madeleine Dore, I Didn’t Do the Thing Today: Letting Go of Productivity Guilt, looks interesting.

On the cheese front, I would recommend A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles.
posted by paduasoy at 10:17 PM on January 1 [4 favorites]

Because I get my groceries delivered now and I order some things every week, I am finally in a position to know how much cheese I actually ate over the last year.

At least 180 lbs. of one single kind of full fat cheddar, at a rate of 3.5+ lbs. per week. I’ve been doing that for so long now I no longer know whether it's a lot or not. Every week as I put in my order, I really never know whether it will be available, but I am definitely developing a sense of an ending.
posted by jamjam at 10:46 PM on January 1 [7 favorites]

In the end, does the cheese stand alone? (Where is Wordshore when you need him?) Team Cheese all the way.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:22 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]

Hell, the whole Year Of Cheese thing has made me realize that more often than I'm willing to admit, my cheese consumption is in cheeto or cheezit form and at the very least I would like to do something to address that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:46 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]

I've tried so many new organizational systems and habits and self-improvement plans over the years which I used to see is having mostly been a failure. But I've tried to shift that mindset recently. Those attempts show a type of hope and resilience and continuing to try despite not "succeeding" as intended, they morph into other types of plans, they teach me something about what works for me and what doesn't, they instill in my brain somewhere some piece of the information or habit that I was trying to accomplish, they're part of an iterative process towards knowing myself more. I'm trying to see trying itself as being a success.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:37 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]

Got sort of a creeping dread that this is the year I flip from feeling like I'm spending money on productivity books instead of just getting on with life, to feeling like I'm spending money on anti-productivity books instead of getting on with life. A change is as good as a rest?

I read somewhere - here? Defector maybe? about someone trying to set goals which are not purely about optimisation of productivity, but more meaningfully and directly leading to happiness. This seems very astute! The problem is it is terrifying!
posted by ominous_paws at 10:31 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I quite fell in love with this take on New Year's resolutions from Twitter yesterday.
posted by Kitteh at 12:23 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]

Rare pokémon Youtuber Natalie Tran (YT: communitychannel) has a new video New Year New You, a (not literal) followup to 2016's New Year's Resolution Police.
posted by radiogreentea at 5:14 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

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