Usually, this time of year, my mind turns to New Year’s resolutions. What longstanding bad habits of my past will the new and improved me shed in the year to come?
In the 1990s, I had several resolutions for giving up various junk foods in the new year. Each year I’d pick a new food — ideally something I didn’t like all that much but ate anyway — and gave it up for the year, or longer.
Then around 1998 I had a new idea: I’d give up women’s fashion magazines. I’d been reading them since my mom got me a Teen magazine when I was in fourth grade.
When they came in the mail each month, I’d hurry up to my room like Charlie Bucket with a Wonka bar, as eager as if my magazine contained a golden ticket. The articles in these magazines never change: how to lose weight, attract a man (or please the man you’ve got), buy the right clothes, and put on makeup.
Back then, I thought my distaste for makeup and lack of interest in men were personal flaws to be corrected. If I could only just try hard enough, I’d like both of them. I had no idea one could have a happy future as a chapstick-wearing lesbian, or that my life would improve dramatically as soon as I accepted that that’s who I was.
But what really put me off the magazines was the part about them that I did like: the weight loss tips and the clothes. For maybe a day or two when I got each magazine, I’d do all of the exercises, try to follow the diet, and fantasize about all of the new clothes I would buy so that I could remake myself into someone I liked — and someone other people liked too.
It took me another decade to work out that the path to loving myself involved therapy and mindfulness, not shopping and diets.
In that moment, I realized that reading those magazines made me less happy with myself I’d been ludicrously promising myself that if I just spent thousands of dollars I didn’t have on the products featured in them, I could be as pretty, popular, and successful as the models and celebrities on the glossy pages appeared to be.
The magazines sold me consumerism and bad self esteem.
For a few years in the 2000s, I made resolutions to do things like ride my bike and then didn’t. Finally, around 2012 and 2013, my resolutions turned into to-do lists. I began making a list of what I hoped to accomplish in the new year, and then realized that I might as well start getting it done and crossing items off the list even before January 1.
This year, I’ve got a new plan yet again. Rather than focusing on our failures, why not focus on our successes? I’m coming off an absolutely epic year in my personal life. I’ve accomplished more that I’m proud of in 2018 than in any other year I’ve been alive. Making a list of my many shortcomings seems a lousy way to celebrate it.
When I feel good about myself, I’m more productive. When I focus on the long list of things I need to do, I shut down.
If you include introspection in your end of year traditions, please join me. In addition to (or instead of) resolutions for the New Year, take stock of your proudest accomplishments of the past year and pat yourself on the back.