New Years Resolutions

‘Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could. Doubtless blunders and absurdities no doubt have crept in.  Forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day.   You shall begin it well and serenely.’  – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I picked up a Redbook magazine today while I was waiting in line at the grocery store.  Among the top stories advertised on the cover is ‘Healthy Changes Top Doctors are Making (copy them!).’  They included the obvious- eating less sugar, walking more, drinking more water,  and sleeping more-as well as some that seem a little more questionable, like getting less viruses by using a Neti Pot regularly.  I read the article and rolled my eyes.  Yes, I know, these suggestions are not bad as New Year’s Resolutions go.  Better than ‘I’ll lose 50 pounds’ from a chronic yo-yo dieter,  or ‘I’ll run a marathon’ from someone who hasn’t exercised since 1973.

Still, the whole idea of the New Year’s Resolution seems like a setup for failure.  It is often an excuse to let ourselves really go at the end of the year- eat everything in sight, stop exercising, spend money like crazy, drink way too much alcohol- with the idea that, suddenly, miraculously, on January 1, we will become monastic and never do any of those things again.  We are, after all, a society of extremes, and many of us become awfully black and white when it comes to behaviors that affect our physical and mental health.   So I won’t be resolving to lose weight, or walk my dog more often, or meditate daily.

I’m not going to lie.  I do have one New Year’s resolution in mind this year.  It is a novel one for me, and one it took way too long to arrive at.   My resolution is to lower my expectations.  Of myself, others, and the universe in general.  This does not mean that I plan to let things go to hell in a handbasket.  (I just have to interject here that ‘hell in a handbasket’ is one of my favorite phrases.  You know what it means, but look it up sometime: nobody knows who coined the term or what the roots of it were- thus it is, in my mind, ever-so-cool to use it).

What I mean is that I am going to practice-yes, just practice-patience and tolerance, for my own shortcomings, for those of others, and for the state of the world.

First, about me (yes, yes, it’s always about me).   I will continue to try to eat healthy meals and exercise regularly.  But I’m not banning sugar completely, and exercise every other day, rather than every day, given my work schedule, is going to have to do.   Having a messy house is also going to have to be okay.  Not DIRTY, but messy- because for years, I’ve been vowing to have a neat house, and for years, it has returned to its steady state of messiness.  Time to take a hint.  I will also allow going out with dirty hair now and then, and occasionally being a bitch.  Not too often, I hope, for either of those (especially the dirty hair) but honestly, there are times when it’s the best I can do.  As for being a bitch, that might even be appropriate at some moments, though as a chronic ‘pleaser’, I have never let myself believe that before.

Now, about others.  Everyone is going to be exactly who they are, and I am not going to change them.  So I am going to work on accepting the mistakes other people make, the times they say the wrong thing, or show up late, or aren’t there for me in the way I wish them to be.  I’m going to accept the ‘good enough’ friend, and the ‘good enough’ relative.  Criticizing those I care about, or worse yet, complaining about them behind their backs, is not going to change anything.  In fact, probably nothing is going to change anything in longstanding relationships, short of intensive therapy or, as I am planning here, some attitude adjustment.  One important caveat, though: if a relationship is so bad that it is truly toxic, I plan to get rid of it.  There is no place in anyone’s life for the truly toxic, dangerous friend.

Finally, the larger world.  Let’s be frank.  It is really screwed up.  And no, I am not going to just recede into my own private world and pretend it’s not happening.  I’ll exercise my right to vote, and to peacefully protest.  I will continue to recycle.  I will voice my opinions freely.  I will try to practice medicine responsibly so as not to be part of the problem.  But we didn’t get this way overnight, and there are no quick fixes for the world’s ills.  I don’t expect any kind of Utopia.  I’m going to stop threatening to move to Finland.  Yeah, there are less guns there, but I really don’t like smoked fish that much, and it’s cold and dark a lot of the time.

Whether it’s Jan 1 or July 1 of any year, all I can really do is get through each day, doing the best I can, and allowing others to do the same.  After half a century of living, I’m pretty sure that nothing is ever going to be even close to perfect.  And that doesn’t make me sad, or discouraged.  It sets me free.

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Rosalind Kaplan, M.D. is a general internist specializing in women’s health issues and medical management of eating disorders. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and did her residency at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. She is currently an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Temple University School of Medicine and the Director of Temple Health Women’s Care, a multidisciplinary practice for women.