The Resolution Solution

As the last pages are plucked off the calendar, it’s time to feel the pleasure of accomplishment and the pressure of regret. Regret at the things one intended to do over the year past but lacked the stick-to-it-iveness to, well, stick to it.

The waning days of December are a time of familiar patterns. Chestnuts, figgy pudding, wrapping paper cuts, family squabbles, and vows to launch the New Year with fresh and transforming habits. Gym owners rub their hands with glee at all the self-deceivers stuffed with goose fat renewing their dusty memberships, full of the great and ephemeral intentions. Would-be artists line up at the art supply store, baskets loaded with sketchbooks and palettes and workshop catalogs. Blog keepers vow, once again, to truly stick to their publicly announced pledges to post five times weekly.

Let’s zoom down from the heights of generalization to survey this particular oath breaker. Why is it so hard for me to adhere to my own intentions? Why do I still steal the occasional late-night tablespoon of Ben and Jerry’s? Why do days, weeks even, pass without my cracking the cover of my sketchbook? Why do I still gnaw my cuticles in the darkness of the movie theatre?

Let’s get more specific still. Rather than a blanket condemnation of my many shortcomings, let’s focus on my blog keeping and try to extract some lessons from its intermittence that might apply to other habit breaking.

  1. Time and place. When I am successful at regular writing, it’s because I get up early, pee, then sit right down at my desk. Before breakfast, I am done and posted. I don’t allow myself time to question whether or not I should bother to write today. I just get up, pee and write. I’ve said this here before — habits are easier to establish by tying them to a ‘sparking event’. In my case, peeing.

  2. Inventory. To lubricate this dry start, I think about what I want to write days in advance, then jot down a word or two that might be the basis for a post. When I sit down, bleary eyed, I have a grain of sand to drop in the oyster.

  3. Structure. I have a loose agenda for each weeks’ post. On Monday I write about things that have inspired me from the previous week, Tuesday and Thursday I freeform things like this, Wednesday I find or make a video, Friday is some sort of instruction. It’s not a rigid structure but it gives my ideas a trellis.

  4. Temperance. Certainly not drinking too much is a good idea, but what I mean here is that if I temper my ambitions, I am more likely to keep producing. For instance, I had a vague notion about what to write here today, but soon my ambitions swelled and I imagined writing a really long posts with scores of ideas, research, quotes… and the thought of all that work made me want to just crawl back in bed. Instead I said to myself, just write a paragraph or two and try to encapsulate the idea. Even though now it appears I am writing much more than that, I couldn’t have started with such a hike in mind. Just planning a slow jog to the curb to pick up the paper is a more fruitful place to start. Underpromise, overdeliver.

(Incidentally, long bits of writing are not an indication of industry. I find it a lot easier to go on and on than take the time to go back and prune. By now, you’re probably feeling the consequences of my editorial laziness.)

Before I commit myself to any new regimes in early 2016, I will think about how to help myself stay true.

  1. What are the sparks that I can connect to the habit to reinforce it? For example, if I want to draw every day, I should put a sketchbook by the coffeepot and draw the view out the kitchen window each morning as it perks.
  2. What sort of preparation can I make to make the new pattern easier to adhere to? If I want to avoid eating carbs, maybe I should start by clearing the pantry of cookies and the freezer of Chunky Monkey.

  3. What sort of structure can I give my habit so it isn’t just open-ended? If I want to go to the gym several times weekly, I can put a recurring appointment in my calendar and make sure nothing else gets booked at that time. And I can add details to those appointments, thinking through what sorts of exercises I want to do on any given day.

  4. How can I set realistic expectations? I can come up with reasonable goals that won’t be a barrier to my getting going — like drawing for ten minutes or walking for twenty minutes or not drinking caffeine after ten a.m. — goals that can then be inched forward over time as I adjust to the idea of the privation or activity.

In sum, I can be like a good parent. I can provide reasonable goals, set myself up with clear and achievable markers of success, be supportive and understanding without being either a wimp or a tyrant, and remind myself that failure is not catastrophic but just a detour from a path one I still return to.

Let’s do great things in 2016 but in a reasonable, supportive, human way. And let’s start by giving up regret.

23 thoughts on “The Resolution Solution”

  1. Binoculars stored on the window ledge for bird-watching leads to many more minutes of actually doing it. I know this yet your sketching what is outside the window as coffee brews felt like a new idea. My book and pen are now next to my easy chair facing outside the south window and the west window. How can my daily routine not have included this before? Daily routine also has blinders that keep us on the straight but narrow path of mindless routine. How, otherwise, could it work? Thanks once again, which has also become a routine.

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  2. I love your blog posts, long or short, regular or intermittent. They are wonderful just as is. The same with all the delightfully creative art work you share. And that you are an art store junkie. As for the gym? Buy yourself a hula hoop, for those days when the gym feels like drudgery. Just don’t buy yourself boxing gloves to beat yourself if you slide off track. Chunky monkey? I can’t help you there. Rocky Road is in my freezer. Happy New Danny!

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  3. i guess my issue is that
    even when i get myself to draw regularly
    let’s say for a week
    then
    i’m either not feeling that i accomplished much anyway/ what’s-the-point” kind of feeling
    or
    when i stopped and feel bad about it
    the memory of “feeling-good-while-drawing” it is in such a misty /foggy visual of the time
    that i’m like :” why bother? ”

    thanks for your blog Danny; seeing the similar issues in people you admire make you feel less ordinary.

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  4. I was always wondering if you do your own posts, or if you had “editorial staff” – now I know and there is no excuses for me! I will get back to my regular blog posting! And, yes, short is GOOD! I will learn some of that from reading yours.

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  5. Danny, you’re so so right about all this….. I so appreciate you cutting through the fluff of making changes and just saying it! Kindest regards and wish you and all a fulfilling new year!

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  6. Thanks Danny for the reminder…I usually keep a ” morning book” on the dining room table and draw something from the newspaper as I am reading it. Got out of the “habit” while I was sickly the last three weeks. Feeling better now so no more excuses. I start again today’s! Happy New Year!

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  7. I recently moved to a temporary location, leaving many of my art supplies at my permanent home. One of those things was “Art Before Breakfast.” When I came back to my real home, before leaving again, the first thing I have put by the door to take with me is that book. I am going to draw as much as I can, not feeling guilty if I cannot fit it in. It’s the guilt that always gets me. Instead of the negative feeling of not drawing, I am going to relish the positive feeling I get when I DO draw, and kind of bank those positives to get me going again.

    I so love this BLOG, and all of the comments people make. Food for thought in generous amounts. Happy New Year to you!

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  8. Lovely post. I’m not good at resolutions or routines but I do appreciate your words. Mostly I just wanted to thank you for recommending Chef’s Table which I am absolutely loving. Cheers and Happy New Year.

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  9. I do pee so that’s a good marker! I do pee just before setting out to draw at Starbucks, so I’m proof positive that works !
    I did the food purge three years ago and have no trouble staying 99.8% vegan most of the time!
    Since being in SBS and joining Every Day in …. The month of … since May 2015 I definitely draw every day!
    I think habits that include a degree of passion are easy to continue.
    I used to wake up, pee and then exercise. This year
    My desire to draw often outweighed my desire to exercise !
    This New Year I need to find a way to do both. I doubt drawing while on my treadmill will work! So I need to convince myself this is a passion!
    Wish me luck!
    Happy New a Year dear Danny!

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  10. “Underpromise, overdeliver.”. Words to live by! It makes one look like a miracle worker. I notice this with restaurants that tell me the wait will be an hour and I’m seated in 30 minutes…. I tend to return to those places more frequently.

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  11. Yep, the best thing I’ve done is to show up every day at about the same time every day to do my most important creative work. I go at it with the attitude I am playing and exploring and I can let go of “the pressure of outcome” that way. I accomplish much more when I don’t think too big or too far in advance, although I do consciously work in little steps every day in order to reach the larger goal. I plan the night before what I will work on the next morning. I try to keep it one to two things. I used to have this long-long list of things to do. I also found that taking care of my basic needs such as eating, sleeping and exercise are key points to balancing a day job with my creative life. I can’t do creative work when I’m tired, etc. But dear goodness Danny leave the cookies in the pantry and the chunky monkey in the freezer so you’ll have them to celebrate with later. Cheers-Darlene

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