Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year’s resolutions: Why bother?

New Year’s resolutions have their usefulness. Maybe it’s a silly gimmick, but as a retiree, I need help keeping track of my time. One of the great rewards of retirement—all that unstructured time-- is also one of the great dangers.

I just took a look at last year’s resolutions to take stock of how I did. As I wrote this time last year:

It's easy to let the days slip by without doing much of anything. The Italians have a phrase for this-—dolce far niente, sweet doing nothing.

Yes, it is pleasant to just relax and hang out, but I really want to finish Feminism in Philly: The Glory Years within the next few years. So I have to make sure dolce far niente doesn’t take over my life.

So how did I do in 2010? Not great, but if I hadn’t been keeping track, I’m sure it would have been much worse. Last year I made four resolutions:

1)I resolved spend at least 2 hours a day on my history of second wave feminism in Philadelphia while I have (I think) full possession of my faculties. I’m sitting on a treasure trove of archival material that a graduate student in history would die for. I’ve promised those who gave me this material that I would tell their story.

2)I resolved to spend 30 minutes reading books/articles in Spanish.

3)I resolved to swim or walk briskly for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week.

4)I resolved to spend at least 20 minutes a day on the kind of housework which is not done as part of my weekly routine: cleaning kitchen cabinets and junk-filled drawers, tackling a filthy basement and cluttered attic.

I failed miserably at aerobic exercise and house–cleaning; it was so bad I just stopped keeping track.

I didn’t do much better with Spanish and when our Spanish group dissolved (people on different levels, no group leader) I stopped keeping track. However, I think I may now be on a roll with Spanish. Thanks to my friend Fran, my husband and I have joined a really serious Spanish group. There is a professor and the group pays her; if you want to learn something, sometimes you just have to pay for instruction. I’m at the very bottom of the class, so it’s not great for the ego. But I’m really stretching, and as a consequence actually learning.

I had the most success with the book project--no doubt because it meant the most. I averaged about an hour a day over 2010 (not counting vacation time). If I hadn’t been keeping track in a very public way, I’m sure I would have made far less progress.

I am making the exact same resolutions this year. Since I have invested so much already in the book, it should be easier to step up production. Also, with my new Spanish group, I have the motivation to try to improve. I will no doubt stay at the bottom of the class, but maybe I can narrow the gap.

My husband and I plan to rejoin our swim club on Jan. 2. We stopped in September as the expiration of our membership coincided with the yearly pool cleaning which usually drags on for a month. We thought: Why not save a month’s membership and renew in October?

Well, October came and there were so many garden chores. We thought: Why not get our exercise doing garden work? We got seriously behind in garden chores, so decided we would work on leaf raking and bulb planting in November. December came and I decided I could get my exercise cleaning our 3 story house and getting it in shape for the holidays. Always an excuse. Well, no more excuses and we’ll be at the pool on Jan.2.

We still haven’t gotten all the leaves raked. They’ve been covered with snow the past week, but now just in time for our New Year’s Day party the snow is melting and we have an ugly mess of melting snow and sodden leaves. As our guests walk by this ugliness, they’ll probably wonder why two retired people couldn’t manage to rake their leaves.

So here I go again making my resolutions in a very public way. This has its advantages. Many of my friends and family members read my blog and sometimes will ask: How’s the book project going? Have you learned Spanish yet? (Nobody’s ever asked me if I’ve cleaned out my basement—-why should anyone care?)

Any body else out here going through this year-end ritual? If anyone has any suggestions for sticking to one’s New Year’s resolutions, please share.


  1. The research literature on the value of resolutions is a mixed one, Karen, with one relatively consistent variable predicting success appearing to be self-efficacy, the belief that one has the requisite skills for some particular task. Other variables (the somewhat elusive motivation, social support) are less robust, though a varied behavioral repertoire also sometimes shows up as useful.
    I also make resolutions but since it's not my blog I don't bear the burden of public accounting! If you'd like to check in privately in a month or two (research suggests that success at one month can nicely predict continued success at six months) I'd enjoy exchanging notes. (And I can't think of a soul who cares about your basement, or your leaves as long as they don't lay slippery on the walkway--you live amid beautiful trees after all.) A fine new year to you and yours!

  2. Just removed some leaves from the walkway!

  3. Karen, I have some of the same tendencies - make lists, fall behind - feel guilty. As I've gotten older, I've gone the other way and try to be a little easier on myself. I find if I look at what I actually get accomplished instead of looking at what didn't get done, I'm able to feel more satisfied and content. So no resolutions for me, but I do love reading yours and your blog. Thank you!