Happy New Year! We made it. And if your inbox looks anything like mine, it’s absolutely overflowing with forty-eleven ways to spend your way to a “new you.”
I expected the emails from my old run groups. But the email from my grocery store encouraging me to “step up my workouts” with their marketplace? Not so much. That email came after the grocery order where I bought pistachio ice cream, so I’m feeling personally attacked right now. Stay out of my freezer, Mr. Real Canadian Superstore!
My point (and I do have one) is that many entities have a vested interest in making you feel inadequate right now. You would never ask your local chocolate company to advise you on the amount of chocolate you should eat in a week and expect an unbiased answer. The same goes for the gym across the street or that Instagram influencer selling their latest diet plan. There is no functional difference. They’re all biased.
It’s Extra Hard to Make Balanced Decisions Right Now
We have had to make tough decisions for the last two years. Should we get on a plane to visit grandma? Should our kids go back to in-person school? Is it really safe for me to go back to the office? Would it be better to just get Omicron and be done with it?
As Daniel Kahneman shows in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, mental exertion can be just as fatiguing as physical effort. In fact, “…if you have to force yourself to do something, you are less willing or less able to exert self-control when the next challenge comes around.” (page 41). This is called ego depletion. Signs of ego depletion include “deviating from one’s diet, overspending on impulse purchases…[and] performing poorly in cognitive tasks and logical decision making.” (page 42).
In other words, surviving this pandemic makes us extra vulnerable to making impulsive plans and less equipped to carry out our resolutions.
You’re Probably Too Hard on Yourself, Too
A landmark study of Israeli parole judges found that the further the judge was from a food break, the fewer requests for parole were granted. You might not decide the fate of people in the justice system. But you are the judge of your own actions. Please consider the idea that you might be judging yourself too harshly when you look back at what you did or didn’t accomplish in 2021.
YOU aren’t a substandard person. Our collective situation is substandard. Putting yourself on a punishing regimen won’t make COVID go away faster.
If you managed to get through 2021 without stabbing someone, you’re amazing. Cut yourself some slack, okay?
And if you did stab someone and went to jail for it, I hope the judge that reviews your case does so after a delicious lunch.
Think Rewards Instead of Punishments
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do something new in the new year. Just approach the whole situation as something that should be fun or interesting, that lasts a week or two. Do the first week of that couch to 5k app. Sample new wines. Learn something. Take better naps. Whatever it is you choose, assume you’ll only do it for 14 days, and invest accordingly.
For example, I purchased a 12-month calendar from Michaels for $16. I’m trying to change up my weekday routine. If this calendar helps me do that, great. If it doesn’t, no problem. I can afford to lose $16.
If you enjoy the feeling of new possibilities that comes at the start of the year, great. We all need more joy in our lives. But if you’re listening to all of that ‘new year, new you’ messaging and feeling a sense of despair, consider this your permission to opt-out.
What’s The Douglas Up To?
I am recuperating from my 25th wedding anniversary. The husband and I managed to go to a very nice dinner on the big day, despite the snow. And then we got sick with something. British Columbia hit its COVID testing limit weeks ago. Since our symptoms were mild (all hail vaccines!) we didn’t bother to get tested. Instead, assumed we had Omnicron and cancelled all of our other plans. I’m grateful the kids didn’t get it.
Other than that, I’m interviewing for jobs and working on a nonfiction piece for CBC’s Nonfiction contest. I’ll gladly take any positive thoughts you have to spare.