A NOTE ON THIS POST – I wrote this the day the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting on Russia and Ukraine. Didn’t seem the right time to publish it. In the ensuing weeks, R&U tensions escalated, the “Freedom Convoy” cemented its occupation of Ottawa, ‘Liz tested positive, ‘Murica passed 900,000 COVID deaths, and I learned California’s droughts are actually irreversible aridification. Yesterday, Putin went to war, making this the least appropriate day in nearly a month to share a self-absorbed piece of fluff – but if a more appropriate day lies in the offing, I can’t see it. Either I publish now, or this post stays on hold till next January. So, begging your indulgence . . .

Ask me, nothing ruins a good workout faster than a crowded gym floor. The elevated noise level, elevated testosterone level, and additional energetic-emotional load I carry when there are more people about cramp my style and ruin my mood. I don’t like queuing for a treadmill, waiting for a workbench to free up, or realizing every machine and cable-pulley system I use in my program is already in use. I hate scouring the room for the one-and-only 12-lb kettlebell some idiot ditched in a random corner. I double-hate racking the multiple 45-lb plates the last guy (it’s always a guy) left on the straight bar to advertise how much he can press (ooh, I’m in awe). And doing sets with the guy (always a guy) who refused to work in with me scrutinizing my efforts with put-upon impatience? Yeah, I’m not a fan.

Back in the day, when I was a gym regular (pre-COVID, I’m saying), I avoided these annoyances by working out during off-hours.  At the gym or on the road, high-traffic is a constant:  7-9am and 5-7pm, Monday-Friday.

Ok, fair enough, commuter rush hours around large urban centers have expanded to more like 6-10am / 3-7pm.  Or worse.  Good luck finding any hours that aren’t rush-hours in the greater Seattle area.  Traffic up there is insane, non-stop.

Point is, gyms are busiest on weekdays just before folks clock-in and just after they clock-out of their day-jobs.  As evidence, I offer last month’s group exercise schedule for Mondays at my gym — a “health club” in a town teeming with retirees like me who aren’t constrained by 9-to-5s.

Pretty sizable gap there, between 10:30am and 4:30pm, right?  No problem getting in a good workout.  February through December that is.  In January, omg.  My gym, your gym, all gyms are Seattle — rush hour, non-stop.  Courtesy of New Year’s resolutions.

The January gym ordeal is totally irrelevant to me now.  Haven’t been to the gym since March 2020.  It wouldn’t even have crossed my mind, if this hadn’t caught my eye: “A Study of 800 Million Activities Predicts Most New Year’s Resolutions will be Abandoned on January 19: How You Can Create New Habits that Actually Stick”.

I warrant the date buried in that mess of a headline (winner of the Longwinded award in the “Click-Bait” category) has as much validity as “it takes 21 days to form a new habit”.  Which is to say, none.  Good thing, too.  If the timelines were true, we’d all be doomed to blow our New Year’s resolutions just days before they became routine.

That bit about us giving up on our resolutions before the month is out, though . . . that is true, more’s the pity.  Assuming we make resolutions in order to improve our quality of life, ya gotta wonder if this popular end-of-Yuletide tradition doesn’t do more harm than good.  Starting out a new year with an epic fail can’t be great for one’s self-esteem.

I’m coming off anti-resolution here, but fer-reals I’m not.  I’d even argue that our ability to resolve to alter a core behavior — an ingrained response to conditioning, a survival mechanism spawned by trauma, a pattern rooted in a genetic predisposition, a physical addition, a psychological crutch — and then make good on that promise to ourselves is one of our species’ few redeeming qualities.  We can’t all do it, we can’t do it all the time, but that anyone can do it at all ever is flat brilliant.

I was 10-years old the first time I witnessed someone make an abrupt, life-changing, 1800 turn-around.

Like everyone else of their generation, my parents smoked.  No idea how old Babs and Joe were when they started.  Odds are, they were pretty young.  By the time I came along, they were seriously addicted; not chain smoking, but lighting up at regular intervals every day, all day long.  I think Dad’s brand was Chesterfield Kings (swayed by the cool guy in this ad, perhaps?) till he switched to . . . Winstons?  I know it took many years, many tries, and many detours into filter tips, menthols, and cigars before he kicked the habit.

My mom smoked Camels.  Big time.  Until the day she quit.  The day Luther L. Terry, M.D., Surgeon General of the U. S. Public Health Service, released the initial report of his Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health.  On 11 January 1964 it became official:  smoking was bad for your health.  So she went cold turkey.  Never smoked again.

First lesson I picked up from that experience:  people are capable of turning over new leaves.  Second lesson:  if the conditions are right.

I expect the right conditions vary greatly from person to person, resolution to resolution — with two exceptions.  Motivation and timing.

Ruing the poundage that made it impossible to squeeze into that killer outfit we had planned to wear on New Year’s Eve may get us onto the treadmill and off the chips for a while, but it won’t permanently alter our diet-and-exercise lifestyle.  It can’t. Because what’s at work here isn’t resolve. It’s willpower.

For me, willpower is the reserve of unwavering intention we use to carry out our plans and fulfill our desires.  Sounds like resolve, sure, but resolve is more than fierce determination.  Resolve entails readying the mind in conjunction with fixing on a course of action.  It’s about making a firm decision and settling on a strategy to see it through.

Willpower is a component of resolution, the energy boost that propels us over the initial threshold and feeds our tenacity on the dark nights of the soul.  Just as adrenaline helps us escape the hungry wolves (literally and metaphorically; bodies don’t differentiate between sundry sorts of stress), willpower helps us conquer our cravings and stick to the program.  But when chronic stress puts our adrenals on continual high-alert, they bug out on us — adrenal fatigue.  Same with willpower.  When we continually drain the reserve tank on our daily commute, we end up stranded in an emergency — willpower fatigue.

Willpower gets resolutions off the ground and bolsters self-discipline when temptation strikes, but for staying the course, it can’t cut it.  It’s not designed to form new habits; it’s a stop-gap to keep us from reverting to old ones.  Under the strain of cumulative or sudden stress, “unwavering intention” wavers, willpower crumbles, and resolutions fail.

Wanting better health, or freedom from the bottle, or whatever isn’t the motivation a resolution requires, even if we want it with all our hearts.  In my (limited and completely subjective) experience, the right motivation — the one all successful resolutions have in common — is an adamant desire to stop doing harm.  To ourselves, to others.  Often to both.  Or, conversely, a vehement desire to do good.

Aunts (that’s mom, down on the left), great-aunts, Nana (on the right, in front of the gal with the cig), and mystery baby at my cousin Johnny’s 5th bday party, 1958.

Without that underlying desire born of self-love, self-respect, and/or compassion, a resolution’s specific aims are more likely to flounder.

I’m certain “do no harm” figured prominently in Mom giving up her smokes. She truly wanted to stop jeopardizing her health and start modeling healthier habits. At an incredibly tender age, my daughter resolved to quit nursing to sleep, not because she wasn’t enjoying it, but because I was uncomfortable (I was preggers again, and my tits were sore).  My son did did an overnight turn-around in 2nd grade when he realized his behavior at school was making life more difficult for us — his family — than it was for him.

On the “do-good” side of the scales, I have friends and family who have successfully resolved to give up single-use plastics, see a dentist twice a year, curtail screen time after 9pm, and grow their soul by committing to a without-fail daily meditation practice.

I’m not saying wishing ourselves or others well is all it takes.  Radical behavioral change is highly complex, intensely individual, and not always possible. I’m saying that when a resolution sticks, the desire do right by someone or cease doing them wrong is invariably a factor.

As for timing, I see two contenders.

Surprise-attack timing — a near-death experience or “Act of God” (by my definition, an extraordinary, unforeseeable event or natural disaster that triggers a major upheaval) — can jolt us into an about-face.  While this type of timing is brutal, its undeniable impact significantly ups our chances of maintaining the altered perspective and may even send us off in the new direction with some momentum.  No guarantees, of course.  Some anti-vaxxers who nearly die of COVID become proponents of the vaccine.  Others rise from their near-deathbeds as anti-vax as ever.

A more common timing is the deadline, as in the day the report comes out.  The advantage to controlling the launch date of a resolution is the resolver gets some prep time. Made a difference with my mom’s resolution, absolutely. No way she could have cold-quit the moment she picked up the newspaper that day (“TIE CANCER TO CIGARETS” was The Chicago Tribune‘s banner headline) if she hadn’t been psyching up to do just that for quite a while.

The Surgeon General’s report was a synthesis of more than 7,000 bio-medical articles that fingered tobacco-smoke inhalation as a major cause of laryngeal and lung cancer in men, a probable cause of lung cancer in women, and the primary cause of chronic bronchitis.  (Safe bet women’s health got short shrift because significantly less research was conducted on that half of the population.)  Mom was a smart cookie; well read, well informed, highly interested in health matters (a Virgo). Mos def she was up on the bad-tobacco buzz that led to Doc Terry’s announcement, and had resolved to quit smoking “the day the report comes out” well in advance of its publication.

New Year’s resolutions fit neatly into the deadline-timing category, plus “new year/fresh start” has powerful symbolic appeal.  I myself made a New Year’s resolution once.  Samhain Eve, 2012.  I lit a fire in a wee bronze cauldron, sat skyclad before it, and resolved to leave everything that was holding me back, weighing me down, or keeping me from being my best, truest self behind in the old year.  A few weeks later, our home burned to the ground.

I subsequently resolved to be more careful when making prayerful resolutions.

Anyway, if New Year’s passes the timing test, why do so many New Year’s resolutions fail?  My guess, it’s the arbitrary nature of the deadline.  Sure, we want to tap the magic of the moment and turn over a new leaf as we turn the calendar page (or swipe to the next calendar screen more like).  But hitching our resolve to an annual exercise in addition doesn’t give it any more oomph than picking a day at random and marking it with a big red X.

Deadlines work best when they’re directly connected to the resolution’s intention.  Mom’s quit-smoking date was tied to the unveiling of the Surgeon General’s report.  I’ve known people who resolved to break risky stress-management habits as soon as they finished their dissertation, dubious stimulant habits as soon as they stopped working the night shift, and heart-stopper dietary habits once they got their lab results — and followed through when those days came.

But resolutions are rarely date-specific.  And that means the right time to make a resolution is when the time is right.  I’m not being facile.  When we’re ready to make a massive change in our life, we know it.  We’re the only ones who can know it. And, if we can, that’s the time to do it.

Parkpoint Health Club’s annual aggravation period passed me by, but I’m sure that even with COVID mandates restricting how many people are allowed in the weight room at a given time, the gym went through its usual January spate of new memberships and predictable February ebb.  Maybe y’all made New Year’s resolutions too — and if so, more power to you.  As for me, I remain unresolved.

13 thoughts on “Unresolved”

  1. I better translate “Inter Karma”.
    A made up term to describe a situation where Karma not only enters the scene as rightfully deemed, it is also slipped Internally into the flow of something that would seem to a mortal to be well on it’s way and done with.
    Of course you probably already guessed this.

    • I think my policy from here on out will be to publish something — anything, really — and then leave it to you to write the real blog, the one with the soul-baring stories, soul-searing insight, and drop-dead poetical prose, the one that puts us all in awe and a state of deep reflection.
      I’ve way more to say, but it’s 1:00am and PG&E has an all-day outage scheduled for tomorrow. Back at ‘cha on Thursday, m’dear, and big, big thanks for that gorgeous “comment”.
      Oh, and yes, women ARE humanity’s last, best hope. Us and indigenous modalities of thought. But that’s another story ;)

  2. Risa,
    Thank You
    I read your Unresolved post the minute it came out. As always an enjoyable and thought provoking insight into Risa. The part about gym workouts provoked a Hmmmm. Covid was a good excuse for me to give up the gym as it was becoming more of a “supposed to/have to” obligation and therefore a burden to my sense of a good life. I switched to walking the hills in good weather and in bad weather an exercise bike at home supplemented with weights. I heft shovels, picks, cement bags, feed bags and wood pellet bags to keep my back sore. Anyway my body is at a stage that no matter what I do my ego won’t permit me to admire it. All kidding aside. On This Day I adore the good fortune and thank the fate that has carried me this far.
    It wasn’t till yesterday that your words “I’m coming off anti-resolution here, but fer-reals I’m not. ……… but that anyone can do it at all ever is flat brilliant” rang a chord. Since I don’t have anything else to relate about your post except enjoyment but still have a desire to write something, here goes.

    A kind group of people taught me that people like me are often under delusion that the power of self will enables us to earn peace from a form of self flagellation I call The Stick. They showed me how not following failures can be The Carrot that leads to Hope. Hope offered me temporary remission of a myriad of excruciatingly painful experiences. After practicing a regimen of avoiding self inflicted pain this became a way of life. Having found a working solution to addiction of drugs, alcohol and tobacco I lived under the mistaken belief that I was riding the Top of The World.

    Unfortunately, or fortunately I found myself in the position of thinking I COULD do it all. Inter Karma. Along came a depression of a sort not even found in my unbound imagination. In all my life experience/memory since my childhood at the end of WWII (yes I am really that old and have an exceptional but rapidly failing memory) there has never been a situation where the win of Good over Bad didn’t seem within reason. Always striving to think pragmatically has kept me following the Carrot until a few weeks ago when Hope was drenched to a tiny ember. I hadn’t the energy for the breath of a tiny puff to nurse a flame. Lightening Struck – Thunder Rolled – The Clouds Roiled and I couldn’t accept what I deemed inescapable reality.
    DEPRESSION was here. Never have I been a happier than sunshine person or HTSMF as my Irish tongued beloved partner says. (With surnames O’Hare and Lynch what do you expect) Since recovery I have been for the most a person of level temperament. Evidence: She tells everyone “He may not always be right but he’s never in doubt”)
    **WARNING** The following is somewhat convoluted due to my tremulous emotional state and declining mental capacity.

    I was reminded of your words while watching an interview with Suzanne Bird on 60 Minutes last night. A must see! However, it’s definitely not for male only sports fans. It took watching this piece to shake me loose from my F*** it all death grip on doom, gloom and desire to cut ties with the human race. I have been in a mood to not speak to, speak about, listen to, watch or read anything remotely relating to today’s REAL WORLD. I was resolved to bury myself, in loneliness, literature, food and sleep and not come out until death do me part. I was too ensconced in false manliness and self pity to share my current feelings, even with my helpmate. (Another “Teutonic strength”)
    I happened to glance up from a break from one of my aforementioned books, naps and snacks when I saw Sue Bird’s shining face on the valium box. By the end of the program I had tears streaming down my face and relief in my stressed gut. Me? The offspring of a German father who lovingly tutored me in the Lutheran belief that tears, love or any other expression of weakness were verboten! (Praise be to the salvation of my mother’s half Celtic bloodline)

    “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” God Bless “Nevertheless, she persisted” the expression adopted by the feminist movement that became popular after the United States Senate voted to require Senator Elizabeth Warren to stop speaking during the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. Mitch McConnell made this remark and it backfired when women’s persistence in breaking barriers, despite being silenced or ignored was inspired to increase greatly.

    You Go Ladies! You may be Humanity’s only hope.

    • Your fall from top-of-the-world to utter depression is more proof in the pudding, I think, that STRESS is the thing that undermines resolutions — especially those that rely on persistent willpower.
      Depression is real. Stress again, wreaking havoc on our internal chemistries, throwing nasty circumstances at us, limiting our resources, and curtailing activities we use to keep ourselves on track. And once it hits, that’s it. Can’t trust your brain anymore, because all it tells you is that it’s all hopeless and it will never, ever get any better.
      Only it does. I’m delighted 60 minutes of Sue Bird was what you needed to release some of those toxins and loose the knot in your innards. We are who we are, creatures shaped by genetics and experience, society and relationships, choices and things entirely beyond our control. Nevertheless, we persist, eh?

  3. I always enjoy reading your blog, Risa! I don’t like the weightlifting part of the gym no matter what time of day or year. Your description of guys leaving equipment in a “used” state is one reason I hate gyms. Then, there’s the trail of sweat that I always end up cleaning. Ew! I prefer classes. They moved to the outdoors during the first year and a half of the pandemic, which was nice. Also, there were far fewer people allowed to participate which was even nicer. It’s so true that a resolution is not bound to a calendar date. The circumstances and desire to do no harm to self or others are what push us over the line to make a serious change in our lives. I will remember your words when I am once again faced with whether to get angry at the driver cutting me off, or let them go, freeing me of unhealthy angst, and them of my rage. And, I think the Chesterfield guy is Frank Sinatra!

    • Thanks for the read and the kind words, Claudia :)
      Our classes/weight room preferences are exactly why they make chocolate AND vanilla ice cream (as my father-in-law used to say). Yes, -I- will try to remember my words in similar situations as well (easier said than done). And you nailed it — that is Ol’ Blue Eyes, the Chairman of the Board, the Voice himself pimping Chesterfields back in the day.

  4. I have never made a New Year’s resolution. Too weak-willed or undermotivated? It’s not that I think I am not in need of improvement. Far from it. Actually, when it comes to resolutions for self-improvement, I hardly know where to begin. Too many choices. I DID quit smoking almost cold turkey. Went from a half-pack to 2 cigs/day. Then, four days later I stopped. I decided that what I really wanted to do was breathe, so why not just deep breathe and skip the intermediary? And, BONUS, I saved money! No resolution involved, just resolve.

    • Not quite clear how your resolve wasn’t a resolution to quit smoking…but clearly you’re not weak-willed or under-motivated! You prove my point; it’s timing. A good friend (shout out to Eleanor) once shared her gift-policy with me. Sometimes you see something just right for someone, she said, but it’s not their bday or Yule. Sometimes when the calendar demands, you can’t find anything for them. Life being short and unpredictable, when she sees something for someone, she gets/gives it there and then. If she comes up empty on an official gift-giving day, so be it. I love that policy. Can’t say I live by it, but I do apply it to New Year’s. Hell with Jan 1st. When you’re ready to give yourself what you really want (like AIR, for example), THAT’s the time to make it happen.



    • Thanks for the read, Reiner. Sorry about the delay in posting your comment. First-time comments go to me for approval. From now on, your comments will post at once and automatically.
      Yes, that’s right — “skyclad” means naked, starkers, in your birthday suit, in the buff, in the raw, nekid, wearing only a smile. ;)
      Tschüss <3

  6. Unresolved, eh?
    Hadn’t heard the phrase ‘skyclad’ before so amused to find numerous local Kildare roofing companies adopt the name. I’m guessing they’re as naive as me. My own version of that is shinrin-yoku. Weather permitting, of course.
    As for the gym; I go but under protest. Luckily enough, I have it to myself in the station.
    Take care. It would have been nice to live in uninteresting times, even just for a few years.

    • Forest-bathing! Brilliant. :)
      “Skyclad” is common neo-pagan jargon. Bet there’s a few Kildare covens get a right-good chuckle off those roofing company names.
      I enjoy going to the gym. In my 30-somethings, I discovered I really liked weight-training, free weights over body weight, the variety of equipment a gym provided, and getting a custom workout from a gets-me gym-provided trainer every 6 weeks or so. Now my home workouts are sorted, I’m wondering if I should re-activate my gym membership or drop it.
      Yes, would’ve been nice. Would be nice if times stopped getting more “interesting” day by day. Солідарність з Україною!


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