Why I don’t make a New Year’s Resolution

In January 2016, I woke up after a holiday celebration with the kind of hangover that makes a person want to tear her brain from her skull and inject a Gatorade-coffee mix in its place. Browsing Facebook was all my feeble mind could handle. My friend David Spinks had posted his intent to take the month off drinking. I was so on board.

Then I got to thinking: what other changes could I make to improve my health? As a startup founder, I’m always looking for ways to become more effective at life and work. I’d never managed to keep a New Year’s resolution, but maybe if I committed to twelve for a month apiece I’d get somewhere. (There’s science to this: only 8% of people manage to keep their resolutions for a full year, but 75% can make it a week, so statistically there’s a better chance you’ll keep at least some shorter-term resolutions). I asked for suggestions on Facebook and drew up a list of twelve healthy habits to try over the course of the year.

DRY JANUARY

Going a month sober was easier than I thought. I substituted club sodas for my usual beer when out, and (harder) forswore wine at dinner. I slept better, lost weight, spent less money, and worked out more.

Three weeks in I was faced with a dilemma when I ran into a few middle aged men in my industry at a conference. They suggested a drink after the event. In business, especially with older generations, I’ve found the stories that come out after a few beers are valuable — too valuable to miss for the sake of experimental sobriety. I ordered a beer, then another. One of the men commented ‘I don’t trust someone who doesn’t drink’, a sentiment I hope will go out of fashion. But I don’t regret falling off the wagon for this one. I heard some great stories.

Verdict: I’m now into my third annual Dry January as it feels like a good way to start the year. The rest of the year I tend to drink wine at dinner and the odd beer or cocktail, but seldom have more than two drinks in an evening.

VEGAN FEBRUARY

The commitment was originally vegetarian February, but after a few days I decided to go whole hog. Or whole non-hog as the case may be. Terrible pun! Moving on.

All in all, not too hard, though I made an exception for chocolate, because chocolate is chocolate. By the third week, I felt noticeably weaker and was sleeping 9 hours a day instead of my usual 7. I’m glad I chose the shortest month of the year for this.

Verdict: I’ve been told I just need to manage my diet better, but this felt like more trouble than it’s worth.

NO PROCESSED SUGAR MARCH

Fun fact: essentially every prepared food has processed sugar. I replaced my usual snacks with fresh fruit, dried apricots, cheese, and nuts, which I feel should have made me a paragon of virtue and good health, but I didn’t feel any different. Also, most alcohol could be considered processed sugar, so this ended up being an impromptu extension of Dry January.

Verdict: like dry January, it made me more considerate of what I consume in general. But I didn’t feel remarkably better, so why give up chocolate?

NO PLASTIC BOTTLES APRIL

The idea of scorning plastic bottles — and non-biodegradable packaging in general — wasn’t one I’d given much thought before, but friends suggested it as something that was healthy for the world if not me specifically. I was convinced of the worthiness of this task when I learned about the giant mass of floating plastic in the Pacific where dolphins get caught and choke. I love dolphins!

But I never realized how often I have the knee jerk urge to grab some water or a sugary beverage in a plastic bottle, so this was harder than expected. The third week of the month, I put on an event where we had plastic cups and the sheer volume of waste made me feel like I’d personally choked a dolphin. I vowed to myself it was paper cups or renting glasses for all events moving forward.

Verdict: I felt good about this practice, and it’s cut down on impulse snack buys from convenience stores in general.

MEDITATION MAY

I’ve taken meditation classes before, and when seated in lotus position have endured two torments: the near-certainty that I could be spending my time more productively, and the near-certainty that I will fart. To spare my fellow meditators and my dignity, in that order, I decided to make my meditation May a private practice and downloaded the Headspace app.

It worked, though not as intended. I found it impossible to stay awake for the duration of a ten minute meditation session. This meant I never had to upgrade past the ten sessions included in the free plan.

Verdict: no closer to Nirvana, but I’m pleased to have found a such a holistic sleep aid.

STANDING DESK JUNE

A few years ago, I came across an article asking ‘Is Sitting the New Smoking?’, implying that sitting for hours a day is as large a health risk as inhaling a pack of carcinogens a day. I’ve secretly raised an eyebrow at all the standing desk devotees I’ve met since then.

I ended up traveling a fair amount in June so I didn’t adhere to this goal very well. The few days I did stand I felt tired and grumpy.

Verdict: it’s probably good for you. But like veganism, doesn’t seem worth the hassle.

NO SNOOZE BUTTON JULY

I just failed at this one. Let’s move on.

ANALOG AUGUST

In August I was supposed to limit my computer use to 10 hours a day. Lots of people have raved about how they are more focused and get more work done when they ration their time online. This piece on digital detoxing from Baratunde Thurston was amusing, and then Andrew Sullivan came out with his rounding indictment of the social internet (easy to write when you’ve already built your reputation, buddy).

I’m ready to believe them, but I couldn’t say I know it from experience. The first half of the month I was in the process of ending a relationship, and the urge to drown my feelings in Netflix was overpowering for a time. Then I canceled my Netflix account and threw myself into working out 2+ hours a day. On one such workout, my bike tires got caught in the rails of San Francisco’s iconic streetcars, catapulting me into a railing. I lost consciousness and ended up in the hospital. When all was said and done, nothing was broken, but my doctor told me to limit ‘screen time’ as much as possible to help me heal from my concussion. Karmic retribution for my flagging commitment to the monthly experiments?

Verdict: worth trying again with more conviction/fewer head injuries.

SUNSHINE SEPTEMBER

This was the easiest of the tasks. I needed to spend at least an hour outside in daylight every day. I got into the habit of taking calls while walking around the SOMA district of San Francisco, which almost always filled my quota. As a New Yorker, it was odd to me that I could walk outside my office without interruption from construction, a fire engine, or other noise. The ground zero for dozens of billion-dollar startups still feels like a sleepy suburb compared to Manhattan.

Verdict: delightful, and a practice I’ve continued.

GLUTEN-FREE OCTOBER

My favorite foods are bread and chocolate chip cookies. I was apprehensive about this month.

However, it seems like there’s gluten free everything these days. I had my bread and cookies in abundance — I just had to pay three times as much for it. Win some, lose some.

Verdict: the number of gluten free snacks I consumed this month eclipsed any potential health gains from cutting wheat out of my diet. I may try this again.

NO NETFLIX NOVEMBER

Since I canceled my Netflix subscription in August, this was a no-brainer. November was one of the most stressful months of my life, so I didn’t bother shoehorning an extra resolution in just because I got a head start on this one.

BUY NOTHING NEW DECEMBER

The point of this month was to avoid buying stuff. Food and drink were allowed, but could I get through a month without buying clothes, accessories, books, or any other consumer goods?

Easily. For gifts, I opted for a bottle of wine or box of chocolates. When I needed a nice dress for a holiday party, I hit up the thrift shop instead of the mall, and was rewarded with a BCBG MaxAzria dress for $4.99 (original retail price: $499).

Verdict: I loved this challenge. I’ve no intentions to buy anything new for the foreseeable other than things that really don’t work second hand (socks, underwear, battery pack for my phone).

AND BEYOND

Though I ended the year with a mixed track record, a surprising number of the habits I started — from drinking less to sleeping healthier thanks to Headspace to buying less stuff — have become baked into my daily life. In fact, I’ve kept more resolutions from 2016 than I have in the rest of my life combined.

And the things that stuck didn’t match what I was expecting. Goals I thought would be impactful, like going gluten free, paled in comparison to spending an hour outside every day.

By making twelve monthly resolutions rather than one, I ended up both healthier and more informed about what works for my health and lifestyle. If you’re thinking of starting your 2018 with a lofty goal for the year, consider making twelve instead. Little habits practiced often have an outsize effect.

Nomad, nerd, travel evangelist. Founder @Hitlist_app. http://hitlistapp.com

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