Doubting Thomas

A Skeptical View of Public Affairs and Popular Culture

Break your New Year’s Resolutions now and get it over with

I have had hangovers before.

You know the kind. Why is the bed twirling? Why did Putin’s infantry march across my tongue in their socks? Why does the smell of bacon frying turn my stomach? Why is the sunlight killing me? Am I now a vampire?

FSU Rose Bowl float 2015

The Florida State float moves down Colorado Boulevard during the 126th Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015. Florida State played Oregon later Thursday in the Rose Bowl. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Waking up at the crack of noon on New Year’s Day, knowing you have already missed the Tournament of Roses parade, and fumbling for the remote/glasses/pants is no way to start a positive approach to the next 365 days. Especially if you have bad habits or need new good ones.

In the early 90s, I was tapped to add wellness coordinator to my other duties in a state government agency. I got certified as a smoking cessation instructor and many of my students were very good at giving up cigarettes; they had done it several times. Trying to quit an addictive substance cold turkey, especially on a day of note (New Year’s Day, birthday, Great American Smokeout) just made it to high states an event.

The University College in London put paid to the myth that it takes 21 days to successfully acquire a new behaviour (British spelling provided as a courtesy). That myth came from a 1960 book about how long it took plastic surgery patients to get used to their new faces.

As I have no intention of altering my rugged features (Dad once advised to never get in a fistfight with an ugly man; he has nothing to lose!), how do I plan to make 2016 better than the already defective 2015?

Start now. Allow time for some false starts and “oh, I forgots.” Get a rolling start until you build up some momentum. After all, Newton knew this back in 1687. A body on a couch tends to stay on the couch unless an outside force nags it upright.

Let’s say you want to reduce sweets, fats, and salts, the only things that make life worth living. What do you do with all of that Dr Pepper and salt pork you already bought? If you cheat now, as you are weaning, you satisfy two important conditions of success.

First, your feelings of wastefulness are assuaged by actually consuming these things less and less frequently until they are gone. The idea of dumping all of your soft drinks down the sink might satisfy your unhealthy need for melodrama but it will also make this a profoundly negative activity.

Second, you gradually become accustomed to these new tastes like 2% milk, turkey bacon, and Diet Dr Pepper. I seldom have high-octane sodas any more but any bodybuilder will tell you about the importance of a cheat day.

IRS tax guides and forms

In this Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 photo, three of several commercially available tax guides to help prepare this year’s tax return are photographed in Washington. “ (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

The same idea can apply to your financial and professional personas. December is a great month to start on next year’s taxes. Doing your tax return is simply a report on the previous year’s activities and sending an invoice to the Federal government for however too damn much of your own money it didn’t let you keep to start with. In this downtime that I know is coming, I can start making stacks, envelopes, and folders so that I can knock this thing out as soon as my last W-2s and interest statements come in. After you do it once, then it is just a matter of filling those envelopes and folders every month in 2016, based on a plan you made in 2015.

Even spring cleaning can start now. This is Florida; the rules are different here. We are in that period between need for the heat or the air conditioning, when screen doors in back and front make enough breeze to air out the house. Besides, when actual spring gets here, there is too much to do. I would rather be at the beach or a spring training baseball game or just on the back porch watching the birds and squirrels.

There is a rule I have that serves me well in this regard. One in, two out. It’s good for shirts, books, tools, hats, anything that I tend to see and think, “I need that.” This forces you to ask yourself if you really do need it and it forces you to re-evaluate a couple of things you might have kept for too long. Imagine how much easier your life will be with fewer to sort, clean, iron, fold (or, in my case, carry to the cleaners. Who still irons?). As an extra benefit, you might fill up a few bags and boxes for donations that help others and give you a tax deductible receipt for one of those envelopes.

Dr. Ron Thomas Desk

My workstation after a sprucing up. Only what I need and a few things that make me feel better. (Photo/Ron Thomas)

Even my workspace at the university needs a cleaning now and then. What do I really still need on my desk and what is just here because I haven’t taken it home or thrown it out yet? In the archaic days of manual paste-up of newspaper pages, I admonished my students to clean up as they laid out the sections of the college newspaper. In that final moment when it was all done and ready to go to press, everyone wanted to leave, job well done. The fun part was over. However, if there were scraps of paper, unused photos, half bags of chips and other detritus about, it either had to be cleaned up that night or faced the next morning.

While it sounds very Mary Poppins, what worked in the newsroom also works in the kitchen. Load the dishwasher while you cook so that later you only have to put in the supper dishes and push start. If you ever come over when I am making a show-off dinner and decide to make yourself useful, never load forks into the dishwasher with the tines up. Odin help you if I get stabbed later!

It’s all about taking large tasks and breaking them down into smaller ones that you can conquer routinely. Then, you have lots of little victories to celebrate instead of long slogs through drudgery punctuated by failure.