There are probably a bunch of couples around the world who happen to be named “Harry and Meghan” - particularly because I doubt anyone refers to them as “Heghan” or “Megry.” There is, though, only one celebrity couple so I’ll assume everyone knows who I mean.
I asked my husband what he would do if he were Harry in this situation. Basically “paparazzi killed my mom, this is the most boring job on Earth, I never liked it anyway and now everyone is completely terrible to my wife, BYEEEEE.” What would he do if he were about to celebrate his first day as a free man?
Probably watch some sports and drink a (warm) beer on the couch.
We agreed that most guys would just do whatever their “thing” is, but that Harry probably never had a chance to even figure that out. What kind of guy is he? What would he do if he were born ordinary?
This is a man who may never have played a video game, stood in line at the movie theater, or made his own sandwich. What would it be like to have no idea how much mustard you like? Or what kind? Or if you even like mustard at all?
It’s fairly easy for me to imagine what I would do if I were Meghan. That’s because I live in Southern California. A lot of extremely famous actors, musicians, models etc have homes within ten miles of my apartment, and apparently there are several in the two-mile range.
This is the crux of the problem for royalists. Clearly the “wealthy California celebrity” lifestyle is preferable to the “British aristocrat” lifestyle. It must burn their collective bacon.
There’s something about the fantasy of aristocracy that really appeals to a lot of people. Note how many princess movies we have, both for kids and for adults, both animated and live-action. Gee, imagine, you get to have servants! And whatever gowns and jewels you want! And you get to have perfect hair and makeup all day every day! And live in a palace! Plus you’re in love with a handsome prince! *sigh* *swoon*
I mean, I got to live the princess fantasy in some ways. I threw a shoe at my current husband, making him fall in love with me, and he elevated me to the middle class. (I was on my way to doing it for myself, but it would have taken me several years longer to make it alone). We danced at our wedding and all that.
Then we won the game. We’ve had the incredible good fortune to be both married and able to live in perfect obscurity.
We can go anywhere we want, do anything we want, wear whatever we want, and behave in whatsoever manner we choose. The press never reports on us.
I don’t think people give enough consideration to this. We have something that money cannot buy, something that every celebrity wants, something truly enviable.
We have liberty.
If I were Meghan, I know what I’d do. On my first day of freedom, I’d wear my hair pulled back in a low ponytail. No makeup. I’d wear yoga pants and walk around barefoot. I’d read a book. Later, I’d go to the store and load up my cart and then I’d come home and put a tray of tater tots in the oven. Heck yeah!
The great thing about this particular dream of freedom is that I can literally live it every single day, and nobody is stopping me.
Nobody speculates about whether I’m pregnant, or takes pictures of my cellulite, or follows me around town, or suggests that I should wear high heels with jeans. I don’t have to read rumors about my marriage in the tabloids. Gossip about me and my life would be pretty low-caliber, and that’s okay. Amazing in fact.
What I dislike about the aristocratic lifestyle is... everything. All these highly posed group photos and extreme fashion guidelines. If part of the job of duchess is to wear pantyhose and pumps on a regular basis, I’m out. Everything royals do is in the public eye, and those public things they do are not things that interest me. At all. Nary a one. I’m not into that style of architecture, landscaping, or interior design either.
I have everything I’ve ever wanted. Aside from privacy and freedom from constant scrutiny, what I’ve wanted has always been BOOKS, comfortable shoes, and access to a wide variety of multicultural foods. Secret love affair with the interesting, mostly ordinary man whom I call husband. Messy pets. Ability to hang out with my wacky family, filters completely off, no dress code, and laugh until I snort.
My life is mine, not the community’s. I’m not public property. I have no concerns about Duty or Legacy or Heritage or whatever the heck those people talk about. Nobody follows me around with a gilded clipboard or a little bound ledger, reciting rules and regulations at me, and I don’t have a style guide. The only protocol in my life is dictated by my parrot, who has her own elaborate ways.
There seems to be a broad consensus, outside of SoCal anyway, that celebrities deserve whatever they get, that once you’re in the public eye then total loss of privacy is the price. Here, we understand that even famous people want to walk down the street, go to the airport, or have dinner with their families in peace and quiet. We know what famous life looks like, and that gives us sympathy.
History always comes around, and around, and around. Eighty-ish years ago Edward VIII abdicated so he could be with the woman of his choice, a decision that gets less and less romantic the more one looks into the details, but it was his basic right as a human being. A baby does not choose to become a family brand ambassador. All Edward and Harry wanted was to be in love and have jobs, to make their own money in the ordinary way.
All they wanted, in other words, was to have what we have. An ordinary life, an ordinary love, an ordinary job, an ordinary home. Just for a moment, let’s all pretend that we are abdicating royalty and that we’ve chosen this homely mess for ourselves.
It’s January, the best month to DO NOTHING except explore, learn, and develop your curiosity about goals and resolutions. I’m proud to say that I haven’t really done anything toward my annual goals yet, just like most years. This is because of everything I’ve learned about “productivity” and habit formation over the years. Perfection be gone! Death to unbroken streaks!
The War of Art utterly changed my life. You can read it in one sitting, or you can listen to it on audio like I did and walk around with your mouth hanging open.
For those of us who want to DO ALL THE THINGS at the same time, multipotentialites who struggle to stay focused, generally people who feel stretched too thin - try The One Thing,
There is no way to read Better Than Before without finding several helpful insights. Plus Gretchen is a really sweet person with a gentle approach.
Getting Things Done is the one to show off at work, although only after you’ve read the first couple of chapters. This is an analog sort of book and I don’t really agree with Allen’s tech-free focus; that being said, it’s great for pencil-and-paper people.
This book helped me see that Getting Organized actually mattered. I didn’t really see the point of it all before I read this. It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, indeed.
The one true clutter book! I have this practically memorized. Flip through it and read any section of any page.
Apparently quitting social media in some form or another is a common resolution at the New Year. Who knew? If this is something you’ve thought of doing, this is what it was like for me.
I didn’t make a resolution to quit Facebook. On the contrary. For a couple of years I felt really guilty for not spending more time there. I just couldn’t make myself. I tried forcing myself to make the occasional token appearance, but each time it would end the same way. Finally I realized that I was done and I should stop pretending I was ever going to treat social media like a commitment again.
My reasons for feeling ill at the thought of logging in to Facebook might overlap with yours, or they might not. Reasons for doing something else with your time can vary and cover quite a lot of categories.
I realized I was losing an average of two hours a day, and I’d rather spend that time reading
I kept seeing rants about unwanted game invites and it seemed ironic
I got tired of looking at pictures of meat and other badly lit, uninspiring amateur food photography
I started thinking that Mark Zuckerberg is a supervillain, that or a cyborg belonging to a supervillain
Ultimately I decided to replace the unsatisfying time I had been burning on Facebook over the past few years with in-person social activities instead.
The thing I dislike about Facebook the most is the way that people relate in text. The more time I spend away from what used to be a regular part of my day, the more I realize that people truly never act in person the way they do on social media. In so, so many ways is this true!
I would be reading through a thread on a friend’s wall, and someone would insult someone else. This happened countless times. There would be this perfectly reasonable, interesting conversation that might have continued for hours or days. Suddenly, someone would pop on and be really rude.
This is often the root of “unfriending,” a social phenomenon for which there was not even a word until Zucky came along.
It’s not so much that I cared about people insulting *me*, although it happened. It’s that it was so hard to read through a single thread anywhere, on any topic, without it happening. I didn’t even participate in the vast majority of discussions; as a rule, I would only comment if I felt I had something new and different to add, a point to make that hadn’t already been covered.
That’s actually another problem entirely - how many times someone would pop up to make a comment that had already been made by someone else. It proved they hadn’t read the whole thread, and sometimes what they said wasn’t even relevant or made no sense.
It seemed that out of all the people I knew socially, only a handful would moderate the discussions on their threads in any way. Almost all tolerated routine rudeness or impertinence.
I don’t think I’m being too sensitive in this, because as I said, it wasn’t being directed at me. It was tiresome to read through it even when I had never met the arguers involved.
This was by no means limited to political discussions!
People argued about dog breeds and travel behavior and brands of cell phone and wheat and a thousand other things of little to no consequence.
I didn't find it cute or funny. Well, sometimes I did. Mostly I just shook my head and wondered how such innocuous conversations could turn on a dime so quickly. What was making previously ordinary people suddenly so combative and belligerent?
Text-based conversations, that’s what.
What finally happened in my life was that I replaced Facebook with a social club. It could be anything at all, for others, like pickleball or a book group, a band or the dog park or a yoga class. In my case it was Toastmasters.
I started talking to more people face to face. That has always been hard for me, because I’m a shy person and I have struggled quite a lot with social anxiety.
It turns out that, at least where I live, most people are really pretty nice.
The great advantage of being a shy person is that it can make you into a great listener. If you learn to ask thoughtful questions, you can become a sort of interviewer and draw fascinating stories out of people. They flourish under the attention. Sometimes they say they’ve never told that story before, or that they hadn’t thought about it in years.
Storytelling is so much more interesting and fun than arguing!
One story inspires another. We get each other going. We laugh, we cry. We pull each other aside to share observations and compliments. We learn, eventually, how to turn even the most innocuous and minor incidents into well-structured anecdotes.
Example: earlier today I was walking my dog when a slice of toast landed on the sidewalk right in front of us. I looked up, wondering where it could have come from. Did a gull drop it? Then a woman’s head popped over a balcony. She started calling out apologies. She’d thrown the toast “for the birds” and didn’t know we were there.
I laughed so hard!
I could easily imagine myself doing the same thing. I wasn’t mad, I was amused and grateful that something mildly entertaining happened that day.
Without a storytelling group, I might never have thought to share that with anyone. Not the most fascinating story ever told, but I’m sure it has the potential to remind someone else of another story, and then we’re off.
I have never once, not a single time in three years, heard someone insult someone else in Toastmasters.
People do give speeches on sensitive topics, definitely including politics at times. Sometimes these are formal assignments in our program. Pick a controversial topic and try to persuade people of your position. I did mine on outdoor cats, and one guy still wanted to talk about it two months later. It happens. But, we laugh about it because we can see each other’s facial expressions. We can hear each other’s tone of voice. We have a history of liking each other and enjoying one another’s company.
Is that still true of your experience on social media?
Most of my social media “friends” are people I know in person. We friended each other because we met and we liked each other enough to stay in touch. In a lot of cases, though, I think we lost that affectionate regard because our online personas annoyed each other. We liked each other better before social media came along and messed it up.
In a few cases, friends have reached out to DM me, or text me if we’re close enough that they have my phone number. Some of them have arranged to come for a visit. This is part of how you find out who your real friends are, the ones who miss you and like you the most.
Mostly, though, you find that you care more about them than they care about you.
I traded my former Facebook time for a bunch of other stuff. I became a Distinguished Toastmaster. I started having board game parties from time to time. I have text message threads with my family. I also read a lot more books and started up a technology newsletter.
When I was active on social media, I realized that it put me in a worse mood almost every time. There would always be something that irritated me or made me sad. When I traded that in for hanging out with other people face to face, I realized that it left me feeling better every time. Laughs and hugs and food for thought, great stories and light hearts. If there was really a way to capture all of that through text, over social media, believe me, I’d never leave it alone.
Thinking about going plant-based for the month? Perhaps you’re even a week in and still feeling all wobbly like a young deer? This will be my 23rd January as a vegan, so let me share from my experience.
It is your right as a consumer in a free market to eat or not eat whatever you want, and to buy or not buy whatever you want. Mine too.
It is SO easy now!
There are vegan options almost everywhere now, from the baseball stadium to Hooters to Costco to basically every fast food chain. It’s even easier when you travel to almost anywhere outside the US, including Iceland. You can also find absolutely millions of fully illustrated recipes and cooking videos online. There are even cookbooks devoted to all your favorite comfort foods, junk food, and desserts of every description.
This should be a relatively laid-back and fun experiment for you, not like the bad old days, she said darkly…
I quit eating meat in 1993, and then quit all animal products in 1997. At the time, this led to constant trolling and criticism, and by this I mean physically thrusting meat in my face and wagging it at me. Trying to trick me into eating stuff with meat in it. Outright lying about ingredients through the first round of questions. The peer pressure was endless and it went on like that for years.
Fortunately, my spirit animal is a little critter named Zero Fox.
What enabled me to carry on with my lifestyle was mainly my utter condescension for social pressure. I had been bullied all through school, and this made me despise groupthink. There were no insults I hadn’t already heard, and I’d even had groups of cruel schoolmates trick me into putting horrible things in my mouth. By this time in my life, I had the backbone to do whatever I wanted, no matter what anyone said.
Not everyone does. For those who are vulnerable to peer pressure and social comparison, this might actually be a really excellent area for personal growth!
I haven’t had anyone bother me about my lifestyle in several years now. Not sure exactly why. Somehow, our culture shifted, or at least it did in the beachy SoCal area I call home. Every now and then someone makes a faux pas, like announcing in front of fifty people that “Jessica will just have to pick out the cheese,” and someone other than me will collect them and deal with it. Generally everyone in both my professional and social circles knows I’m vegan, and the only time it comes up is when someone guides me around the snack table.
This is how much things have changed: My husband and I do martial arts, and most of the instructors at our academy are full-on lifestyle vegan. Their potlucks are LIT.
It’s so common now that you probably know a few plant-based people who don’t bother to mention it. It’s much more common in athletic and entrepreneurial circles than among ordinary suburbanites.
On the off chance that you are so unfortunate as to be surrounded by amateur insult comics, you may be starting to realize that you could use a little help in dealing with them. That’s where I come in.
I tell people that I’ll give them a nice flat green American dollar if they can tell me a vegan joke I haven’t already heard. So far many have tried and all have failed. The only real vegan joke is “Vegetarian is Native American for “lousy hunter,”” which is problematic and hasn’t been funny for thirty years. I can recite it along with them.
Actually there are two jokes that you can tell in any audience, one vegetarian and one vegan:
Q: “How many vegetarians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”
A: “I don’t know, but where do you get your protein?”
And the other:
Q: “How many vegans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”
A: “Two, one to hold it and one to read the ingredients.”
They follow up by stating that plants have feelings. Uh. The animals that you eat, eat more plants than I eat. If you honestly believed that then you would quit eating meat. It only ever comes up when people want to… whatever it is that they want to do. Save me from myself? “Own” me?
I’m a Mensan, a Distinguished Toastmaster, and a practicing standup comic. Bring it.
“It’s so sweet of you to be so concerned about my health! How thoughtful! I didn’t realize you felt that way!”
About that “where do you get your protein” question: it’s based on 1930’s-era concepts of nutrition. I tell people that even iceberg lettuce has protein, and then ask them where they get their magnesium. Almost all Americans are deficient in this vital nutrient and they have no idea what it does for the body or what foods contain it.
See, people do have genuine questions about food, legitimate questions, and they have no clue who they can trust to give them any guidance. Our doctors aren’t taught nutrition in medical school, and it’s not like our teachers or parents were either. We rely on advertisements and marketing campaigns. The idea that what we eat has anything at all to do with our physical wellbeing, emotional or mental health, or longevity is unsettling to say the least.
Attacking someone who is exploring new ways to eat is a lot easier than confronting the boogeyman. Is there a better explanation for why someone in the 95% majority would act so threatened and defensive?
Part of why I have an easier time dealing with haters, trolls, and naysayers is that I’m visibly doing really well. I’ll be 45 this year and I haven’t eaten meat since I was 17. I can pass for 30, I’m on no medications, and I have no issues with such common middle-aged problems as high blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes. I hate to say it, but three or four of the people who used to tease me about my health nut ways have… already died. People my age.
The things that people will say to a teenager or young person in her twenties are along the lines of “You’ll find out one day what you’re doing to your body.” People feel quite free to bother girls about our health and imply that if we eat anything other than the Standard American Diet, we will lose our minds. Once they realize that you’re middle-aged, it changes. My doctor told me, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,” which most people my age don’t get to hear too often.
My husband is turning 52. He still eats meat once or twice a month, which is his business, and which I feel gives me added credibility as a non-insane, apolitical non-extremist. He isn’t on any medications either. Apparently that’s some kind of medical miracle. His total cholesterol is 130.
Assume that anyone asking you questions is walking through a set of standard responses, exactly the same as they do in other novel social situations. For instance, I have a parrot, and people always ask 1. If she can talk and 2. How old she is. What people have been taught to say when they meet a vegetarian is “How do you get your protein,” “soy milk is bad for you,” and “plants have feelings.” After that they’re out of ideas. You may be the very first non-standard eater this person has ever met, and you can turn it into a neutral, maybe even positive, experience.
Do this with a good sense of humor and one of the top-three dishes on the potluck table, and eventually whatever you want to eat will be a non-issue. I hope you like hummus.
How’ve you been?
Busy, so busy!
Yeah, me too.
January is the time of year when I think about TIME the most. The way that time is passing. Everything older people used to tell me about how time moves faster when you’re older unfortunately turned out to be true.
How can we possibly “live our dreams” or have a bucket list when we’re so gosh-darn busy?
We have to.
I think it’s time for a major cultural change. I think we’ve all passed “peak busy” and we’re ready for something else.
In fact, I think we should all start bragging about how lazy we are instead!
I don’t believe that “lazy” actually exists. I’m just saying that. The only people I’ve ever heard describe themselves as lazy turn out to be doing all sorts of things. Did you realize that you can’t be both lazy and a procrastinator at the same time? Seriously. A truly lazy person would not feel bothered by not doing something and wouldn’t feel guilty about putting anything off, either. So which one is it? Are you lazy or are you a procrastinator?
I’m picking lazy, as soon as I can figure out how to do it.
The way our current system is set up, we’re supposed to Work Hard so we can earn money so we can Retire. Retirement is about relaxing and doing nothing as a reward, right?
If relaxing in retirement is so great, then why wait??
Actually I think the idea of hanging out in a recliner in front of a television is the most boring thing imaginable. I don’t really believe in retirement in the traditional sense.
What I want is INTERESTING, not “busy.” Busy is not interesting in itself because it makes us exactly like everyone else. It usually consists of work, chores, and errands.
Why not lead with our real interests? Since surely we do and think about more than just work, chores, and errands?
I’ll tell you mine. Do you think the thylacine is really still alive?? The Tasmanian tiger?
Also, do you think Kate Middleton ever secretly attacks a heavy bag and just kicks it over and over again while screaming curse words? I would.
Anyway. We all know that somehow, in between all the “busy” things we do, we have plenty of time to play with our phones. We text and look at memes and follow celebrity gossip and play games.
Which is awesome, and also a great list of things to do while pushing pedals on the elliptical.
I go on the elliptical because I’m lazy. I could be running along the beach but there’s a really steep hill on the way back to my apartment. It’s easier to just take the elevator down to our little apartment gym, the one that basically nobody uses.
Mostly I go down there and read articles about astrology. Totally true.
So busy! So, so busy!
The thing is that everyone gets the same 24 hours, infuriating as it is. Same as Beyoncé, Kate Middleton, and the high school students riding their skateboards past my apartment. Those 24 hours are the only thing we all have in common.
Are we going to make them ours, or are we going to give them to other people and their priorities?
Pretend an hour of your life is your favorite beverage. Are you going to let someone just walk up, snatch it out of your hand, and drink it right in front of you?
My green tea soy latte NOOOOOOOO
This is exactly why I set my goals and resolutions every year. It’s my little way of saying “in your face” to every naysayer or critic or bad boss I’ve ever had. This hour, it’s mine. Not yours, mine. I decide what to do with my time and you do not. So nyah.
My first boss at my first official paycheck job assigned me to scrub the baseboards. The other employees told me they had never heard of anyone having to do that at that job. Why me? I dunno. I got a better job, tripled my income, and left. My final paycheck was under $40.
Not every use of time is deserving of our attention.
We do have to do a lot of necessary but boring stuff. Life is, what, 80% maintenance? Work, commute, fold laundry, try to figure out where all these little packets of soy sauce and ketchup keep coming from, stand in line somewhere, repeat. Thus it’s up to us to fit in anything personal, to make time for anything that actually matters to us.
For a lot of people, that magic personal thing is listening to music. For others, it’s putting on makeup or watching cute animal videos or choosing new tattoo art. We fit these personal things into our lives somehow or other.
What if we could fit in more?
What if there were more of those forgotten personal things, and it turned out that we have time for them after all?
A friend of mine started drawing again after many years without. Actually two friends of mine did this in different years. In both cases, I could not believe how talented they were, and that nobody knew. Why on earth would you ever give that up? What, not even doodle while you’re on the phone? Not even while you’re out to dinner and there’s a paper tablecloth?
Most of us associate these talents and interests with our school days. For some reason we think it’s normal to sigh and give up.
It’s true that most of us give up lounging on our beds, reading song lyrics, talking on the phone for hours, and all the other fun things we did in high school. We get home at six instead of three, and where are we supposed to find those extra three hours a day?
But then how do the statistics keep coming back that the average American spends five hours a day watching TV?
We certainly don’t need to stop watching TV if that’s what we really love to do. I doubt, though, that we should keep claiming that we’re so, so busy if that’s the main reason we aren’t living our dreams. We should instead proudly proclaim that we’re indulging ourselves, relaxing quite recklessly in defiance of social norms.
There’s time, there’s time for all of it. You can learn a new language while you commute. You can play your favorite 100 albums of all time during your shower, week by week. You can “catch up on laundry” while binge-watching every show you ever wanted. You can draw during lunch. You can even train for a marathon if you have 4-6 hours a week. Not only is there plenty of time for you to put your own fun first, but if you have kids it’s still true. Kids like fun best of all. Set a good example.
People have the wrong idea about this whole “new year, new you” thing. We feel it as pressure. Like the only way to do it is to eat a lot of celery while filing paperwork. Instead it can be a form of rebellion, of reclaiming time for yourself and your own choices in the face of that exact same social pressure. So society wants me to be busy, so so busy? I’m just going to retire early and start telling the truth about my life. The truth is that I like to spend part of my time wearing silly socks and making elaborate breakfasts, just for myself. I’m not busy every single minute and I’m done pretending.
How about you?
The biggest problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they get miscategorized. If you want to win at this game, you have to be clear about the rules. What does I WON look like?
The whole thing is much easier when you look at it as a game and approach it with curiosity, or hilarity if you can manage it.
Typically it looks like this. Someone blurts out a resolution on New Year’s Eve, and then quits by the middle of January because they couldn’t manage a perfect streak. Each time they feel guilty and dumb for trying.
The only things we should have a perfect streak at are all hygiene-related!
Like, go ahead and skip Duolingo - I don’t care what that owl says, unless it’s a barred owl in which case watch out - but please don’t skip washing your hands or brushing your teeth, mmkay?
Okay, let’s say the goal is to choose something fun and entertaining to do over the rest of the calendar year. We’ll use my friend Ed’s idea from 2018, which was to “ride more roller coasters.”
How does Ed know that he has kept his resolution?
What he has done is to set an “implementation intention.” He is going to ride “more” roller coasters. He has a clear vision in his mind that he and his wife are going to drive over to an amusement park, buy tickets, and get on the ride. (At that point, willpower no longer applies and the rest of the resolution happens on its own).
Technically, if Ed and Mrs. Ed rode zero roller coasters in 2017, and one in 2018, then he has kept his resolution because one is “more” than zero.
In actuality, this roller coaster deal happened throughout the year and became a fun, memorable series of dates.
This was a successful “resolution” but it could also reasonably be considered a “quest” or a “mission” or a “project.” It could even be an “experiment,” the purpose of which was to overcome the fear of roller coasters.
(That’s called exposure therapy, and it usually works for most people, just like public speaking did for me).
The idea here is to find a way to explore your intent and desire in a way that is not punishing or shaming, because what fun is that? How does it get anyone anywhere? If it really is important or interesting to you, then you would probably want to figure out how to set yourself up for success. By the end of the year, whatever it was that attracted you would be satisfied in some way.
A regular part of your daily routine?
A memory and interesting story?
Information that taught you that it wasn’t what you thought it was, and now you no longer want to play the bagpipes after all?
Certainly an escape clause should be built in. You want a way to release yourself from your internal contract. A learning experience is not failure; in fact, far from it. Every learning experience gets you closer to the ideal vision of what you want for your life - and do not want!
A friend of mine has made a resolution to stop making assumptions about other people’s intentions. He had the insight that he tends to tell himself stories about what other people are thinking when they do or say certain things. This type of projection is stressful, and often wrong. This is a great example of a resolution, because it is meaningful to him and because it will take time to get it down. If he’s right, it will improve his life and there would thus never be a reason to quit doing it. It’s a resolution without a specific timeline or destination, which makes it poorly suited as a traditional “goal.”
Meanwhile, someone could have a goal of returning their ancient overdue library books from three years ago. That would be a clearly defined “goal” that also counts as a resolution. They would know when they were “done” and they would also have kept their implementation intention. (I did this once for a client and the librarians emailed me because they were so curious how I got ahold of the books). This same hypothetical person could make another resolution to “only check out digital books” so they never again have an overdue book, yay!
One of my resolutions for 2020 includes a “project.” I am learning about new ways to simplify, automate, or eliminate household chores. Built-in motivation, right? I have no idea how much I am going to learn or how long it will take me to explore this, which is why it’s a project and not a goal or a resolution. Another person might have a cooking project, or something like making raised garden beds, turning their garage into a music studio, or building a treehouse.
I also have a “quest,” which is to train for a fifty-mile ultramarathon over the next five years. If I were able to do this within three years, that would be amazing. I also wouldn’t be disappointed if it took me longer. The idea is to be fit enough to do an ultra at age fifty, so performing this magic trick at an even more advanced age would actually be an improvement over the original vision.
I have a traditional style of “resolution,” which I call a “stop goal.” I only frame stop goals when I realize that I’ve been doing something to drive myself crazy and annoy myself. One year it was to stop leaving tissues in my pockets and then running them through the washing machine, so that little shreds of wet tissue would disperse themselves throughout all the clothes. Years later I am six-sigma successful at this. This year it’s to stop procrastinating on listening to my voicemail on the rare occasions when I get them. Perfection is not the aim for a stop goal; it’s actually liberation from an easily preventable form of self-bothering.
Even if you only do it once, that’s one less time than usual, one less time of annoying yourself for no reason.
Probably the reason so many of us quit and give up on our “resolutions” is that we pick the preachy ones. Quit biting my nails, stop smoking, Lose Weight, save money. If we had any idea how to do these things, we definitely would have done them already. It’s not our fault if we don’t know what to do on day one.
This is why I believe that it pays to set aside two months to be streak-free, goal-free, and thus failure-free. December is for deciding what to do, and January is for starting to learn how to do it. The more clarity we can get on what we want, how it looks and feels, and how other people have generally made it happen, the more likely that we are to keep our resolutions. Because we want them, they are fun and interesting, and we like them!
Vision to reality, just how is it done? Why do some people keep their New Year’s Resolutions while the majority don’t? The secret is cheating - or, rather, defining your goals in a way that can actually be won.
I always keep the majority of my resolutions, and usually I do them all. This is true even though I set mine over eleven categories. The main reason is that I see it as a game, and part of that game is constantly experimenting on the rules of play.
The best cheat is to pick a resolution for something you already do. For instance, I resolve not to smoke a single cigarette in 2020. This is easy for me because I’ve never been a smoker, and why start now? When nurses ask me if I’ve ever smoked I refer to it as “a really expensive way to smell bad.” At least hauling trash has innate dignity and earns a paycheck.
This is part of the trick - first, to regard the arena of the goal with humor. Second, frame the keeping of the resolution as something attractive, and the not-keeping of the goal as something low, gross, dumb, annoying, or whatever other quality makes you shy away from it.
This can be a problem if you have low self-esteem and don’t see yourself as worthy of having nice things. Nice things like dignity, self-respect, a savings account, loyal friends? Building your sense of entitlement can help here. Start by giving yourself credit for all the positive things you already do. (Flossing, not being an axe murderer)
For every goal or resolution, there is someone who will repeatedly try and fail at it, and someone else who does it every day without thinking.
Keep that in mind.
I ran a marathon - if that’s on your goal list - and I believe I will do it again. Millions of people have, and that’s part of what convinced me that I could if I wanted to. On the other hand, it took me three tries to pass the test to get my driver’s license at age 29. I share this because driving a car is something most people never think about, something they learned with eagerness and that they see as giving them freedom.
What if your resolution gave you freedom, too?
Learning to drive was far harder for me than training for a marathon was. Driving made me sob my heart out in public, but running never did. This is because I framed driving as a “must-do” and training for the marathon as a personal milestone. I felt that society was forcing me to do something I was bad at, that if I didn’t learn to drive before I turned thirty then people would think there was something wrong with me, that I struggled with driving because I was stupid. Meanwhile I understood that having my marathon medallion would be metal AF.
If one of your resolutions does happen to revolve around something that “society is making you do,” check with some neutral third parties to make sure you’re right. If it’s true, that you really “have to” do whatever it is, then try to focus on the positive outcomes after you’ve reached the goal. Freedom from the obligation. Proving people wrong. Building character and firming up your resolve. Surviving difficult things gives you greater ability to survive difficult things.
(I’m trying to think of things that a person would literally be “forced” to do by society, and all I can really come up with relates to incarceration, being on probation, wearing an ankle monitor, etc.)
It can help to compare your resolution to actual prison, slavery, medical cataclysm such as being in a coma, or other severe situations. Most of us forget that our lives are really pretty boring, comfortable, and routine, and that our struggles fall well within the median for humans.
There are two types of goal: push and pull.
A pushing-away goal is trying to get away from something, like debt or being on medication. A pulling-toward goal is moving toward something, like buying a house or getting a GED. Most goals can be framed either way, and in that case I find that it’s helpful to do both, to think of the goal both ways.
I resolve to pay off my debt/I resolve to increase my net worth.
I resolve to quit smoking/I resolve to be considerate of my lungs.
The main trick is to use the right terminology to get a win for your resolution. That means taking the time to understand just what it is that you’re trying to do. The reason you aren’t living your dream already is probably that you don’t know how. (Either you don’t know how or you never wanted to before; those are the options).
If you WANT TO and you KNOW HOW then you can and will quite literally do anything at all.
A “resolution” is a statement of intent.
A “goal” is a specific, time-bound result of action.
Neither of these is a “plan” or a “project” or a “mission” or a “quest” or an “experiment” and neither of them may have anything to do with habit formation. I often use “resolution” as a broad category descriptor, while getting more specific during my yearly planning.
Personally I find resolutions far, far more effective than goals. Most people, myself certainly included, will commit to a specific goal that they aren’t able to do, and/or a goal that does not lead to their intended results. For instance, the year I ran my marathon, I gained 8 lbs. If my intent was to “lose weight” that year, then I would have technically failed even though I put in a huge amount of effort and achieved a major milestone.
How will you know when or if you have kept your resolution?
That’s the real trick. Most people think they are making a resolution when what they said really isn’t a resolution at all, and that’s why they quit. For instance, “lose weight” is a shambles of a resolution. What, forever? Until you get to zero? How on earth do you keep a resolution that is phrased that way? Does it count if you lose half a pound and then gain it back? What on earth does the finish line look like?
Maybe we just start saying “I resolve to figure out what’s involved in...” - whatever it is. Learn more about it, that’s all, and then see if we’re still interested.
What we’re really asking ourselves to do is to change, to figure out how to make our lives easier, better, or more interesting. Just because we don’t know how to do it yet doesn’t make it impossible. Just because we’ve tried and failed many times doesn’t mean we’re incapable. We have the power to choose great visions for ourselves, and if that isn’t worth trying, then what is?
This is the first time I have posted decade-level goals and resolutions on my blog, so I put extra work into it. Over the past few years, I’ve realized that the projects that I find the most engrossing and challenging are multi-year projects. The day I started each of these, I had no idea that I’d still be grinding away three years later. One of the benefits of midlife is that we have the patience, attention span, experience, and (frankly) the resources to attain long-term goals. Might as well harness that, right?
Over the past month, I’ve asked my elders how they felt at the start of each decade, particularly how they felt about technological innovations and major cultural changes. SO INTERESTING! My parents were barely old enough to be aware of current events in 1960, but they certainly noticed the Moon landing at the end of that decade. Talking about decade-level achievements with people who are satisfied in their careers and proud of their kids and grandkids can be really inspiring. That’s my hope, that when we are in our sixties and older my hubby and I will look back and feel like we’ve participated in life, in our culture, in our family legacy. We want to feel like we’ve enjoyed, learned, and experienced as much as we can.
That’s what all this goal-setting is about.
I already have so many regrets: that I never interviewed my grandparents about their lives when they were still here to ask. That I missed so much of the childhoods of my niece and nephews. That I missed graduations and weddings when I felt too poor to make the trip. What I regret most is not showing up, not connecting, not engaging and not reaching out. I could have called, I could have written, but I put it off and put it off without realizing how quickly time was passing.
At the same time, I’ve never wanted an ordinary life. If the only thing I ever did was to make the calls, come to the parties, and send the letters, well, heck. That’s a fine life but not big enough for me. I want to see the world and make at least one project that is bigger than me, something that outlasts my tenure on this blasted rock we call Earth.
In ten years I’ll be 55. If I’m ever going to do anything at all then I’d better get going.
What I’m posting here are yearly goals and resolutions, and also ten-year goals. Some of these were really tricky because I’ve never thought of them in that context before. It definitely puts some perspective on habits when you think, Will I still be annoying myself in just this same way ten years from now? (*facepalm*)
Personal: This category is what I think most people would refer to as their “resolution.” For me it’s my major area of focus. In past years it’s been running, public speaking, or martial arts. I try to choose something where I feel intense resistance and instinctive dislike. That’s where the greatest transformation is possible!
In 2020 this is going to be body transformation. Right now I feel like an angry puddle of goo. I had a very rough 2019 and there is no way I can tolerate the idea of being the same or worse ten years from now. I’m forty-four and my body belongs to me, not to society’s female-vessel regulations. I’m going to lose weight, I’m going to talk about it at great length on a regular basis, I’m going to do it my way, I’m going to get covered in mud and punch things, and that’s just how it’s going to be. I can’t force myself to pretend to pander to “body positivity” “I’m just fluffy” clouds and rainbows, riding in on a panda and licking an ice cream cone. I gotta wake up in this crusty old carcass every day and I intend to fully inhabit it like a warrior queen with the flaming sword of truth.
Career: My career goal for 2020 is to learn how to do webinars. I am not a digital native and I have to push hard to understand technology that is new to me. Eventually, whatever I learn becomes something that I do on a daily basis, without thinking about it, like syncing Bluetooth or downloading new apps, but that first onboarding process is something that I always find deeply confusing and frustrating.
For 2030, I want to be a published author, of course!
Physical: My physical goal for 2020 is to get my weight back to 125. I was able to maintain this for about five years, until I made the benighted decision to “put on ten pounds of muscle” and started eating like an NFL linebacker. (For reference, I am 5’4” and small-framed).
While I was training for my marathon lo these many moons ago, I became enchanted with the idea of the ultramarathon. I started telling everyone my goal was “50 for 50,” a fifty-mile ultramarathon for my fiftieth birthday. Suddenly that goal is only five years off and I either need to abandon it or start training. I hate abdicating, this is my one and only lifetime (or if not, it’s a moot point), and I want to see Silver Fox Future Self crossing that finish line.
Home: We’ve decided to start formally saving for a house, really a far-fetched, Moonshot sort of a goal where we live, but we like it here. That’s the 2030 goal.
For 2020, I’m working on automating more household chores as part of my book project.
Couples: Our couples goal is to build an app together. Fortunately the software coding part (the hard work) is my husband’s bailiwick; he’s learning Python and this project is as good as any.
Over the next decade, we have a shared goal to do more camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling adventures together. We only really see each other on weekends anymore and we like the idea of planning expeditions and picnics when the weather is fine.
Stop goal: My “stop goal” for 2020 is to stop procrastinating about text messages and voicemail. Honestly there are few things I despise more than listening to voicemail, but letting them sit there with blinking notifications isn’t helping. Text messages can be a serious problem for anyone who needs to focus and do long stretches of deep work - you broke my concentration to send a meme to a group thread?? But again, it seems that society has moved to this rather than email. My plan is to blast through the day’s detritus during my workout.
My ten-year goal is to stop procrastinating in general. I’m one of the 20% who fights this constantly. I think the solution is to reframe anything that feels aversive and try to think of better messages to send myself. Like instead of “I’d rather be scrubbing a toilet than doing this” I can think, “This will probably take less time than scrubbing a toilet.”
Lifestyle upgrades: Our ten-year lifestyle upgrade goal is to have a garden again.
For 2020, it’s a bummer to think about but my big lifestyle upgrade will probably be to have gum surgery. Over the past year I have had increasing reason to take my dentist’s advice seriously and I really want Future Me to think I had good judgment. Young people take note: you never think of your teeth as a part of your lifestyle until your first root canal.
Do the Obvious: The most obvious thing to do in my life right now is to plan around constant travel. At least during the active career portion of our shared life, my hubby and I have had to be constantly poised to pack a suitcase. He sometimes calls me to say that he’s flying out that very night; I’ve even had to head out to his building and bring him his passport. This is exciting and fascinating for us, but it also requires mental agility.
This will most likely still be true in 2030, so there ya go. No normal weeks.
Ultralearning: This is the first time I’m setting up an ultralearning project. I have total confidence in my ability to become absorbed in an educational mission; really the problem is more that I don’t know when to quit! In past years I feel like I’ve neglected the perpetual-student part of myself, and particularly my special gift of language acquisition. A quarter-century ago my Japanese teacher pulled me aside and said I had talent and that I should go forward in languages. I nodded (like, duh, totally), waited several years to go to college, dithered around in Greek and Latin, and then became a suburban housewife. That part of me only awakens when we see an action film with supervillain subtitles, and I can pick out the occasional word in Russian, German, or Japanese. SO, uh... *drumroll* in 2020, I’m going to do an ultralearning project and study Dutch.
DUTCH! Why the heck not. *tada*
For 2030 I plan to learn to write screenplays.
Quest: In my terminology, a quest is a grand adventure that I don’t necessarily know how to do. Part of the quest is figuring out the guidelines. My quest for 2020-2025 is to train for that “50 for 50” ultramarathon. This means I need to start running again. I also need to figure out how to add mileage without borking my ankle like last time, or causing myself any other overuse injuries.
My decade quest is to visit Antarctica.
Wish: My wish for 2020 is to get a publishing deal. Our wish for the next decade is to become millionaires!
Personal: Body transformation
Career: Learn how to do webinars
Physical: Weight at 125 lbs.
Home: Automation project
Couples: Build an app together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail
Lifestyle upgrades: Probably gum surgery
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Dutch language
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon! (2025)
Wish: Publishing deal!
2030 - Ten-Year Goals and Resolutions
Personal: Silver Fox project
Career: Published author
Physical: 50 for 50 ultramarathon!
Home: Buy a house to live in
Couples: Camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating in general
Lifestyle upgrades: A garden
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Write screenplays
Quest: Visit Antarctica
Choose a resolution you can finish in one day, and you automatically get the same bragging rights as the people who choose something more complicated. If you never make resolutions because you “know” you’ll let yourself down, change the rules! You are invited to look over this list of one-day resolutions. Pick one if you think it could make your life better, easier, more fun, or more interesting.
Apply for a passport.
If you already have a passport, get it out and check the expiration date.
Change all your passwords and find out where you can use dual authentication.
Go around and set all your clocks, including the microwave and the dashboard in your vehicle.
Throw out everything in your kitchen that is past its expiration date.
Throw out any expired medications.
Throw out worn-out socks and underwear.
Cash in your change jar.
Make an appointment to get your teeth cleaned if it’s been more than 6 months.
Make sure you’ve had a tetanus shot booster within the last 10 years.
Pull out your driver’s license and check to see when it expires. Is it this year? Oh snap.
Give back anything you borrowed from someone else.
If you have overdue library books, return them. A lot of libraries no longer charge overdue fines!
If you quit reading a book because you lost interest, let it go. Give it away or trade it in.
Match up the lids with all your pots, pans, travel mugs, and plastic containers.
Make a “dump run” and get rid of the broken junk from your garage, yard, or anywhere else it’s piled up.
If you have a mending pile, look it over right now and decide to fix it or throw it away.
Increase your retirement contribution 1%.
Get a free copy of your credit report and check it for errors.
Fill out a living will and have it witnessed.
Sign up for a first aid/CPR certification class.
Set a timer for one hour and spend it cleaning or filing.
Go through your email inbox and unsubscribe to as much as possible.
Delete some apps.
Reconsider your social media engagement.
Call an old friend and say hello.
Apologize to someone.
If you have your own URLs, look them over and decide whether you still want them all.
Look through your queue of movies and TV episodes and delete anything that no longer interests you.
Look at your keys. Are there any you don’t need any more that you can get rid of? Mystery keys you don’t even recognize?
Think of any task you’ve been procrastinating for longer than a year. Make the decision to do it this month or let it go.
Read The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield.
Make a vow not to make negative comments about other people’s resolutions.
Do you ever feel like, New Year, another one?? Right now I’m looking at the turn of the year with equal parts relief and dread, glad we made it through some heavy weather but feeling like the next year will be more of the same. Some excellent things and some terrible things happened, sometimes at the same time, and in fact isn’t every year like that?
Sometimes life gives with one hand and takes away with the other. Example, our dog was given “six weeks to live” in November 2018, and he’s still here, but his liver tumor got bigger and he also has a mass in his lung. Another example, I had to get oral surgery, but those two teeth were saved. A friend of mine in a similar situation has to wait six toothless months before she can get an implant, so I guess I feel “lucky”? Further example, I had a cyst removed after a very scary and weird medical issue, when for a few hours I feared I actually might tip over and die. Surgery is not cute or fun but it is usually better than the alternative.
Crabby person: I spent a month on antibiotics, thought I might die, spent weeks dealing with medical, dental, and veterinary stuff alone because my husband was out of town, and had to get stitches twice!
Optimist: I survived with just a small scar, they managed to save both my teeth, insurance paid for almost all of it, and I got my stitches out before the New Year!
This is part of why I try so hard to focus on highlights and achievements at the end of the year. Otherwise it would be very, very easy to overlook them amid the chaos of daily life, that or fail to fit in any highlights at all. Here are a few.
Our dog Spike survived his predicted 2018 demise, a sweet bonus year
Won an election and became a Division Director in Toastmasters
Went to World Domination Summit
Visited London and Edinburgh for the first time
Sat in one of the cafes where Harry Potter originated
Moved to a new apartment that is actually quiet!
Went to the Canary Islands for our tenth wedding anniversary
Oh, BTW, we had a tenth wedding anniversary, 13 years together
Became a Distinguished Toastmaster
Noelle started saying ‘Okay’ (when she wants to go to bed)
Personal: My big personal goal for the year was to submit a book proposal to a publisher. If I had known what a total train wreck this year was going to be, I would have held off on declaring this and instead just said “Get through 2019 somehow mostly intact.” Nevertheless this goal is in progress. I finally feel like I can take myself seriously as a working writer.
Career: My career goal for 2019 was to become a Distinguished Toastmaster. I didn’t even know what that was when I first made my 2016 resolution to conquer my fear of public speaking. This has been one of the most emotionally challenging things I ever did, and I am really proud of myself. Not only did I get that DTM, something not even 1% of Toastmasters do, but I won an election as well. The last time I gave an impromptu speech, a couple weeks ago, someone told me that I “have a commanding presence up there.” Heh. Seriously, it’s hard to imagine someone being worse at something, and feeling more dread and dislike for it, and then having a greater transformation. If *I* could do *this* then I feel like anyone could do anything. Just push through the first six months.
Physical: My physical goal was to focus on hip openers, a type of stretching exercise. I kept reminding myself to get down on the floor and figure this out, and now it’s the New Year and I still haven’t done it. Overall I feel like my body is turning into a bruised fruit. I failed at this goal. I dropped out of my martial arts gym. I also gained weight, which feels exhausting and terrible and which I am hating beyond description. This year I feel like the only physical thing I did well was to not die.
Home: My home goal was to set up an outdoor writing area. That was at our old apartment, and it was great. We crushed this by relocating to a new place, where not only do I have an outdoor writing area, but it even has an ocean view. We’re finally in a place that doesn’t have carpet, we have a dishwasher and a bedroom door again, and it’s so quiet that we sometimes take two naps a day. As sometimes happens, the results exceeded the original goal.
Couples: Our couples goal was to do meal prep. This helped us get into really cooking again, and our freezer is full of homemade soup. My husband even made jam for the first time in a few years. We’re back in a proper kitchen and remembering how much we prefer our own cooking.
Stop goal: My “stop” goal was to “stop being sick and tired.” Last year I was really struggling with getting the common cold over and over and over again, and I basically lost a year of sleep thanks to my selfish rude upstairs neighbors. I did some research and experimentation, talked with my doctor, and found out that hardcore zinc supplements really do make all the difference for the immune system. Super Bio Veg for the win. Also we moved and I’ve been able to get about 25% more sleep.
Lifestyle upgrades: My lifestyle upgrade was to get a new desktop computer, which I finally did, once I realized that the system I wanted cost less than half of what I thought it would. Something I have learned is that I should not say I “can’t afford” something until I know, objectively, how much it actually costs.
Do the Obvious: My “do the obvious” was to schedule time blocks so I could get more done. This failed utterly and spectacularly. From June through today there has not been a single normal week, between my dental stuff, travel, moving, my husband’s business trips, my nasty medical surprise that ate November and December, and our poor sick doggy. I honestly don’t think there will ever be a time in my life when I can predict a strict schedule weeks or months in advance. I’m shifting my attitude toward something more flexible and forgiving.
Metrics: I had the idea to add metrics to my annual goal-setting, and this was generally a success. I started out trying to track a bunch of stuff (mostly HIIT exercises) that fell out of my routine due to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Tracking metrics did help me to complete my DTM, focus on SleepQuest, and read more than the year before. Wherever I track what I’m doing I tend to get better results, because it doesn’t take long for patterns to stand out.
Quest: My quest for the year was SleepQuest 2019. I’m calling this a success! I was not able to find a single thing that helped me sleep through the heavy footsteps and early-morning vacuuming/rearranging furniture of our upstairs neighbors. Well, other than a moving van, that is. We moved and now I can sleep whenever I want. I may have lost the first three quarters of the year but at least that phase of our life is over.
Wish: My wish was to be signed by a literary agent. To my great astonishment, I am kinda sorta “in talks” with a couple of people. Maybe this will turn into a thing.
Personal: Book proposal - IN PROGRESS
Career: Distinguished Toastmaster - SUCCESS!
Physical: Hip openers - FAIL
Home: Outdoor writing area - SUCCESS
Couples: Meal prep - SUCCESS
Stop goal: Stop being sick and tired - SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: New desktop computer - SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Schedule time blocks - FAIL
Metrics: Sleep, fitness, reading, writing, speaking - SUCCESS
Quest: Sleep Project - SUCCESS
Wish: To be signed by a literary agent. - IN PROGRESS
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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