Somewhere buried in the boxes that my parents once delivered to my house I might be able to find many years' worth of New Year's resolutions made as a pre-teen and teen. I don't have to actually see them to recreate them in my mind though, since a lot of them would appear on such a list if I wrote it today.
I am comforted by the idea that I am probably not alone in this situation. The stuff that we most want to change about ourselves or about life in general – which inconveniently always comes back to ourselves – is difficult and relentless and sometimes immutable.
Although I try not to make resolutions for Jan. 1, I still think a lot about my life during the days between Christmas and New Year's Day. Living with cancer has made this moment of reflection especially meaningful as I consider what I've resolved in the past versus what I want today. Here are my top four resolutions as a teenager, what'd write today on the same topic, and the Plan B that makes much more sense.
Today, I skip the things I can't change and go straight to the Plan B for a better life. Here's hoping 2019 brings that to you as well.
Teen Me: I resolve to lose enough weight to shop at "4-6-8 Clothing Store"!
2018 Me: I want to lose weight!
Plan B: I will eat more vegetables in 2019. Plan A (the resolution of losing weight) hasn't made a real dent in at least 30 years. Plan B is achievable though since it involves moving the focus off losing weight and onto striving to eat better every day by loading my plate with vegetables and other healthy items.
Teen Me: I resolve to do butt lifts and sit-ups every single day!
2018 Me: I resolve to go to the gym every single day!
Plan B: I do try to get to the gym but by adding that "every single day" into a resolution, I'm setting myself up for failure. There's no possible way I can get there every day since I have responsibilities outside of exercising. What I can do? I can go to the gym most days and also walk my dog around the block, mow the lawn or shovel snow, do a few exercises from the physical therapist. But most importantly, I can decide that even if I don't exercise on a certain day, I still can exercise the next day.
Teen Me: I resolve to be asked to Homecoming!
2018 Me: I resolve to have a dinner party!
Plan B: I remember multiple resolutions surrounding the idea of having dates and boyfriends. Today's teens have Instagram to make them feel like they're failing at life and I had “Seventeen” magazine, but the effect was the same. The pressure for finding a boyfriend is off but the social media photos of people having dinner parties is on. Still, after living in my house for 20 years and having exactly one party, I think a reasonable Plan B is to remember that I can ask people out for coffee, drinks or dinner and then act on it. Maybe a dinner party will happen but I'm not going to waste time stressing about it.
Teen Me: I resolve to be more beautiful!
2018 Me: I resolve to be more beautiful!
Plan B: I will get my hair cut every couple of months and I will try to remember to use eye cream.
In case you're wondering, these are real resolutions I would make as a teenager and adult. I did have non-superficial ones such as reading classic literature and getting better grades/getting a better job, but the ones that I could never achieve would remain stubbornly in play today because the very nature of so many New Year's Resolutions is that they have us put down on paper big goals instead of the steps that might eventually lead to those final destinations but will definitely lead to feeling more capable and in control. No wonder February is full of advice for getting back on track and March features advice for slimming down for summer.
As with cancer treatments, Plan B can be so much better than Plan A. Knowing that I have control over what I want to change in my life – eating more vegetables versus becoming a size 6 – provides a feeling of accomplishment that's a positive reinforcement. Will I ultimately achieve my teen resolution of being more beautiful? I doubt it. But I can manage to swipe on eye cream every night.