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Monday, January 9, 2023

When Life Throws Curve Balls at Your Resolutions

How are those resolutions coming along?

It’s Day 7 of January 2023, a full week after many of us toasted the new year at midnight and resolved to make changes in our lives. Back in December, I wrote about making resolutions—or habit changes—with the guiding principle of “just try.” Most of us want to change something about ourselves—to become a better version of ourselves—so the first step is to decide to try. The next (and the next and the next) is to follow through.

Depending on where you get your data, a large percentage of folks who make new year’s resolutions fail by February. One statistic I found was 80%. That means 80% of people who want to change decide to renege [yeah that’s spelled correctly; I actually had to look it up] on their promises to themselves. January 19 seems to be the date most associated with throwing in the towel on resolutions. One fact I read claimed that 23% quit their resolutions in the first week. Hopefully you are not in that number.

So far, neither am I.

Most of the changes I want to implement are habits. I fell out of taking a multi-vitamin in the latter half of the year so I’m starting to take them again. Six for six as of this writing. Ditto for consuming a daily dose of apple cider vinegar, performing daily push-ups, getting up and moving [either walking or the rowing machine; walking won this week], and daily readings [Psalms, Proverbs, and the Daily Stoic]. The principles found in James Clear’s Atomic Habits provided me the tools necessary to maintain the habits I want to implement.

And, inspired by fellow writer Bryon Quertermous, I bought a weekly planner to keep track of everything. I make daily notes when I perform the habit. I don’t anticipate having 365 days of check marks saying I took a vitamin because after a certain number of days, the habit becomes ingrained. It’s how I started and maintained my flossing habit.

But here’s the key metric for any new habit: inevitably, one day you’ll miss or forget or somehow not do the new task. Let that roll off your shoulders and stay focused on the overall goal. Adjust if you have to and try not to miss two in a row. It was a lesson I applied yesterday.

The Writing Resolution

The year 2022 was not a good one for me writing-wise. As such, a major resolution for me was to get back in the habit of writing. Taking a cue from key message from author Mary Robinette Kowal at her book signing here in Houston back in November, I’m starting the year off with a brand-new story. Yes, I have multiple unfinished stories, but am channeling Kowal’s theory of why NaNoWriMo works for her: the writing is Novel, Interesting, Challenging, and Urgent.

So, for me, the new book is novel (as in brand-new). I’m interested in the story I’m telling. I find it challenging in that I’m starting from a story pitch and a general sense of what kind of story it is and how I want to tell it. As for urgency, I would love to finish the story by 31 January, but I’m allowing myself a goal of six weeks. I’ll grant myself until 28 February if things get complicated.

Crucially, I don’t have a set writing goal in terms of word count. All that matters is forward progress. I started the year with 1,028 words, a great start considering I haven’t written fiction in months. I topped 1,600 words twice this week, both on days in which I went into the office (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays). By the time yesterday rolled around, my first work-from-home day of the year, I was excited: with no commute, I could wake at the same time and get a substantial chunk of writing done before I logged into my work computer.

That was the plan. Didn’t work out that way.

The Friday Curveball

I had Alexa set to sound the alarm at 5:30am. As a bit of background, the Christmas break was not as restful as I wanted and I’ve been trying to catch up on sleep. I’ve been tired this week and, despite my attempt to get up at the alarm, I was still catching up. “Alexa,” I said yesterday morning into the dark, “set an alarm for 5:45.” With those words, I rolled over for an extra fifteen minutes.

Forty-seven minutes later, I woke. Still in the dark. I smiled at myself for thinking I was so excited and ready to get to writing that I had beaten the alarm. I checked my digital watch. 6:17am. What the heck? Did the power go out? Nope, the ceiling fan was spinning. Puzzled, I asked Alexa what the alarm was set for. “5:45pm.”

That brought a huge sigh from me. Sure, I needed the sleep, but I had slept through my writing time. I only had time to get up, take out the dogs, shower, eat breakfast, and get to work. What would become of my new daily writing habit?

I adjusted.

I worked really hard on all my day job activities, got them all complete, and, late in the afternoon, I opened up my writing computer and picked up where I left off during my Thursday lunch hour. To be honest, it was weird writing so late in the day. I became a morning writer ten years ago—lunch hour writer when I have to go into the office—so it’s been a long time since I wrote fiction so late in the day.

But you know what? It worked. I made forward progress, clocked in 1,694 new words, and my writing resolution remained intact. All is good.

The key takeaway: Life will throw curve balls at your resolutions. Take the hits if you can and adjust accordingly. Just stay focused on the end goal: becoming a better you.

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