Goal: To be resolute

Commentary

As with every new year, I make a list of resolutions that I often adhere to religiously for the first month or so and then gradually, but persistently ignore until the following December rolls around. Once the reflective period sets itself in motion I rush to wrap up what resolutions can be salvaged, a pitiful attempt to stroke my ego and assuage my ever-increasing fears of not really moving forward in life. Needless to say, my resolution lists are often laughable.

My first problem with resolutions is that they are often overambitious. I’ve learned that if you set your goal way too high, you’re so disappointed with yourself that you can’t really make it happen, you actually quit ahead of schedule. I know this because my resolution last year was to run a half marathon. Have I even run a marathon? No. Does the word marathon scare me? Yes. Does the word half make it sound possibly more attainable? Yes. Did I know how much distance equates to a half marathon? I found out after I wrote down the resolution, and began researching training tips. It suddenly became an overwhelmingly ambitious goal that I decided to forfeit last January, even after I’d run my first 10K.

It consoles me that I am not the only one that falls in this trap. Just today I saw that one of the people I follow on Goodreads had set her 2015 reading challenge (for my slightly obsessive take on this, read this previous post) for 300 books. Surely that’s a little over the top? I mean, live a little, won’t you? Having been in the infuriating situation of not meeting my (what then seemed to be) high goal of 50 books a year, I’ve since toned it down to a meandering 36 for 2015.

Another issue I have with resolutions is that they sometimes don’t make sense to me when I revisit them a year later, either because they are too abstract or generic. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, this year I had to decide whether I actually achieved the following two resolutions:

1. Be less absolute

2. Write more.

The problem with exhibit #1 is that I have no idea what I meant here. Surely some kind of event took place that gave me some kind of profound insight into some obscure character weakness I have (maybe not so obscure if you know me well), but seriously, how the hell am I meant to know if I’ve pinned this one down or not? How much less counts as worthwhile and how much more writing is equal to a gold star? Who knows? Who’s checking? I’ll just quietly put a tick next to both to help my yearly stats and carry on as normal. Don’t tell on me.

So this year, I’ve decided to do things slightly differently: I’ve incorporated other people into my new year resolutions. Before you jump to conclusions, no, this doesn’t mean I’ve made resolutions for others, though I might be better at doing that than doing my own. Actually, the two resolutions I’ve written down and have already started (remember, it’s January still), are:

1. Take up trail running. Keep running. Just run. 

Now I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t make this slightly masochistic. By keep running I mean wake up at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays and go running before work. Why? Because that’s when I have time. Also, the view of the city waking up slowly is pretty breathtaking, and why should the garbage collectors be roaming the streets alone at this beautiful time? And of course, the best way to keep at this post-January is to have a running buddy, who’s more of a masochist than I am.

2. Take #bookportraits

Because of my Goodreads stats obsession, and general voracious reading appetite, I’ve decided to document what I read this year through a series of book portraits that I’ll upload on my flickr page. I’m going to try to add reviews or general thoughts to what I read through this blog (to cover that “write more” goal on my list) because if anything, I’m darn good at reflection. Duh. I’ll be taking these photos along with my partner in crime, who may or may not hate me by the end of this project.

Tune in next year, when I revisit my resolutions and determinedly add “stop collaborative goals” at the top of my list. Oh wait, sorry, that’s just me being absolutely cynical again. (Note to self: be less cynical).

What are your goals?

Don’t let me down

Commentary

You won’t often find me admitting to be in the wrong, but I think it’s high-time I face the music. My problem is that I always set the bar too high. Some of you may think that this is surely a good trait: after all, what’s wrong with a little aspiration? And better yet, how great is it when that unachievable task you set on your list is conquered and quite determinedly crossed off your list?

It’s not that great, really. Ask any perfectionist. Any high goal achieved will automatically mean that the next time, the goal should be even higher. The adrenaline of a challenge is unparalleled, the threat of defeat such an ulcer-inducing experience, the fervor of achievement only a punch-drunk second. I fall for it again and again and again.

I first realized this in December. I greeted the 12 days of Christmas with utter anti-consumerist spite and had decided to do something more personal and genuine for our long list of friends for Christmas 2010 (last year). I ended up baking a series of cookies and treats, boxing them up with personalized gingerbread men and adding Dutch stamps and twine in an attempt at a faux-parcel. It was a great surprise for everyone, but mostly for myself, for pulling off 12 boxes filled with at least 5 different baked goods by yours truly. This year, I knew that if anything, I had to exceed expectations, if not meet them. The overachiever in me wanted to go all out, convinced that I couldn’t bake the same goods. What complete shame to deliver the same box of goodies a year later? I scavenged for recipes that would impress, I drafted ideas for a theme, in fact, I spent entirely too much time on something that didn’t really merit it. Testament to this was our friends’ response: 1 second appraisal of box, before ripping it open to begin devouring contents. Who cared about presentation? Who stopped to think, Boy I’ve eaten this before

No one. And that’s normal. Now I know this.

And though I recognize my over-ambition as, perhaps, my biggest flaw, I can’t help but feel disappointed at myself whenever I underperform by my standards. Take the summer, for instance. Come this glorious season of smelly armpits and drones of mosquitoes, I make a list of goals I wish to see through by the end of my two month vacation (the perks of teaching, I’m afraid). And on my list, around the top, float the same words year in, year out: Read a lot of books. I assume that this is on the list of most ordinary people in the summer, with the possible omission of the words “a lot of” for obvious reasons. Now, the problem this year,  is that sometime in December again, I decided to join the online book community Goodreads, which eagerly prompted me to set a reading goal for 2012. At that point I had just received an order by Amazon for 15 books and I was overjoyed and optimistic at my reading capabilities during the year. So I decided to set the goal to what I considered an acceptable, if not essential, target of 50 books in the year. During the two-week Christmas vacation, I read four books and I was in such a high spirit that I thought I had regained my peace of mind and my fast reading pace. That number dwindled to a staggering three books until the next vacation, Easter, during which I managed to trudge through a mere 130 pages of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. What an embarrassment.

To think, that in college, I read at least 25 books per semester and that’s not counting the ones I devoured for pleasure. At the back of my mind, this was my most productive reading time, I assume, and for that I hold on to it with a competitive ardor that even intimidates me on some days. You see, in all honesty, a part of me knows that it doesn’t really matter how many books I read this summer. In fact, I’m doing quite well, I’ve managed to go through 5 books in the last month. But yet another, more empirical side of me, seeks the quantitative data with strong desire to hold it up as a trophy of achievement, so I can look back at my former younger self who is quite surely disappointed at my sluggish reading. And even when I’m trying to not think of anything, there’s still that parenthetical reminder on Goodreads that furtively informs me: “Congratulations! You’ve read 13 books out of 50. (At your current pace you’re 18 books behind).”

It’s a castigation of sorts. It inflames my inner pride. It makes me the wrong kind of reader, too. Immersing myself in a book has nothing to do with numbers, after all. It’s about striking that connection, getting lost, even momentarily, from lists and personal insecurities and entering a world that I’m sure I value more now, in my 29-year-old worrisome head, that I did as a 20-something student.