New Year, New Approaches

Sunday Letter | #320

New Year’s resolutions are rarely new; they’re more things we’ve attempted halfheartedly – half-consciously – to do in the past, that we feel guilt or shame toward not succeeding at, and that we wish to re-attempt, with new resolve.

That’s been my experience, at least. And I suspect a big reason that so many people, myself included, give up on resolutions is that we reach too quickly for a variation of the same solution without thinking more about why the old ones failed. There’s a kind of consumerist logic to it, that resolve + acquisition = change. We repeatedly swap out different whats without reflecting enough on the whys. It’s not too far off from the classic definition of insanity.

I particularly liked this article by Casey Johnston about cultivating the “mindset bubble” of a supportive fitness community:

There is a different way to feel about exercise than exasperated guilt. I’ve thought a lot about what particular bug it was I caught about lifting heavy weights, and the community was a huge component. It was a space where people were about their skills and strength, not weight loss or punishment for eating the “wrong” foods or having abs (though that part can be fun, secondarily). It was about learning to use your body to do strong stuff, and that was it. So if you’re tempted to beat yourself down yet again with another secret-shame resolution, I’m suggesting instead trying to surround yourself to the extent that you can with a different mentality around health and just, you know, marinating in it a little.

Instead of going for a new fad diet, or subscribing to a new fitness app – the latest iteration of a tried-and-failed approach, Johnston’s advocating an entirely different kind of approach altogether.

Likewise, in Matt Webb’s 15 rules for blogging, the first rule is Webb’s goal – “Three posts a week, more or less” – but the rest are mostly hacks for the myriad reasons it might have been hard to achieve that goal in the past. Here, for instance, is rule number two:

One idea per post. If I find myself launching into another section, cut and paste the extra into a separate draft post, and tie off the original one with the word “Anyway.” Then publish.

Embedded in that rule is Webb’s awareness of how ballooning drafts might have prevented him from posting more. I read that and think of all the times in 2020 I’d failed to send out a newsletter on time (or at all) for small reasons: I started writing and had more to say; I was set on posting a photo with each letter and hadn’t taken any that week; I told myself I’d write it after dinner and couldn’t muster the energy …

If there’s any point that 2020 has hit home, it’s that systems like racism and climate change and global pandemics can’t be met with surface-level fixes. Maybe it would do us well to think of our personal resolutions, as Webb and Johnston do, as systemic too. Maybe it would serve us better to broaden our awareness of the different layers (or nodes) of these systems – the myriad reasons why something might have worked or not worked for us in the past.

And maybe that could be good practice for broader, societal change in the very near future.