The Resolution Revolution

Posted by Arlo on Jan 3, 2007 under Thought Objects

New Year's Eve, 2002, Cusco PeruHave you heard of NANOWRIMO?  It’s the silly acronym for the National Novel Writing Month website.  The idea is that every participant attempts to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.  From their About section:

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

Wow, blockquotes work weird with pictures.

Anyway, they go on, describing their vision, but I’m bothered that you never see a disclaimer.  “NaNoWriMo: Pushing people towards disillusionment because they can’t even follow through on writing ‘crap.'”

Oh to be sure, there are some that finish writing their crap.  12,959 of 79,896 people over the past four years, if my non-scientific tabulating of their authors page is correct.  That’s 66,937 failures, though, or about an 84% failure rate.

I’ll bet that’s on par with your typical New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, and because they’re such a huge tradition, I wonder why that is.  (Probably because my family didn’t make a big deal out of them when I was younger.)  In fact, I can’t remember a single New Year’s resolution I’ve ever made.  Still, it wasn’t until I made the (tenuous) connection with NaNoWriMo that I began to wonder if they might be bad for everyone. 

Think about it.  How many New Year’s resolutions do you know of (your own or others’) that became permanent changes?  And how many were forgotten or were discarded before spring?

What’s wrong with New Year’s resolutions?

  • Most New Year’s resolutions are ambitious in scope.  “Stop smoking,” “Go to the gym regularly,” and “Eat healthy” are noble goals, to be sure, but oh-so-easy to slip up and make one mistake.  Tell me, when you smoke that one cigarette, miss that one promised gym visit, or eat that one pint of Ben & Jerry’s, do you feel your resolution is still intact?  Or has it been broken and is no longer the motivational tool it was meant to be?
  • The dead of winter has to be the worst time to make resolutions.  You’ve got shorter daylight hours, miserable weather, and maybe even some Seasonal Affective Disorder working against you.  How much easier is it to rationalize sitting on the couch and watching TV when it’s dark and snowy outside?
  • Your friends and family, likely your support group, are dealing with (failing) their own New Year’s resolutions.  If your resolution-in-going-to-the-gym partner misses a day or two?  Is that going to help or hinder your own motivation?  And people working against their own vices often aren’t people we can look to for support.  I’m all for people quitting smoking, but I’m all for avoiding them while they do it.
  • I can’t speak from experience, but I’ll bet a common first reaction to failing at a New Year’s resolution is, “Oh, well.  I’ll try again next year.”

That last bullet is the heart of the problem, both for New Year’s resolutions and NaNoWriMo.  Most people’s enthusiasm for anything, be it writing a novel, dieting, or stopping smoking, doesn’t just happen to correspond with the Julian calendar.  I can remember the time I resolved to work out and run 2 miles every day (for the four months leading up to a sunny-destination vacation) or the time when I resolved to lose 20 pounds (after a particularly food-centric vacation.)  I was successful in both because I resolved to do them when the time was right for me (read: when I was so sick of things I needed to make a change.)

So, if three days into this new year you’re still going strong on your resolutions, congratulations, because I think the system is working against you.  If you do fail at them, though, don’t give up.  Keep your thoughts on them and maybe in the next 362 days you’ll find the ideal time to make those resolutions your own, not the New Year’s.