I have known exactly one person in my entire life to keep a yearlong commitment to his or her New Year’s resolutions. That would be my husband, circa 2006, who resolved to make soup for himself every Sunday.
“Every Sunday?” I questioned him skeptically.
“Every. Sunday,” he replied.
And with that, pots of French onion, split pea with ham, split pea without ham, and stews of every order simmered on our stove each weekend. He made 52 soups in total, and no, he doesn’t have obsessive compulsive disorder. Nearly all of them were tasty save an admirable venture into the territory of experimental gazpacho – despite its fabulous name, avocado gazpacho is a green tide of nastiness.
But this kind of behavior concerns me. I believe that resolve should bend to the curves of one’s life events, rather than soldiering forward come what may. Ok, I admit – eating all those soups was wonderful, yielding few complaints from me.
I believe that resolve should bend to the curves of one’s life events, rather than soldiering forward come what may.
However, New Year’s resolutions never worked for me in quite the same way, inspiring several lame riffs on their basic theme: there were the “New Year’s wishes” during college (“for 2002, I wish Alex Fisher would date me”) and then the more high-minded “New Year’s goals” shortly after (“for 2004, I plan to get into Cornell, Berkeley, and Stanford for grad school”) until I finally realized that these were recipes for failure. As it turns out, involving boys or grad school admissions panels in a New Year’s resolution rarely ends happily.
But four years ago, I started a tradition called “the New Year’s word,” and that – with both its loose boundaries and simultaneous anchoring quality – has stuck.
It goes like this: instead of a New Year’s resolution, you pick a word. One, single word, no proper nouns allowed. It also helps if this word isn’t secretly intended to function in a Law of Attraction-esque way, like “prosperity” or “partner” (new rule: if it begins with the letter “p,” be wary). I tend to go for verbs, but that’s just a personal preference – the New Year’s word need not dictate parts of speech. Here are some past examples:
(You’ll notice how lofty these are. O Magazine-like. Please do not feel the need to make your New Year’s word as corny as mine if this is in fact the route you go.)
instead of a New Year’s resolution…pick a word.
And the results? Well, in 2010 I got a work-from-home job and also stopped going out so damn much. This blessedly cut down on both my commute and my hangovers. In the spirit of an open mind, I tried aerial silks in 2011, and haven’t stopped. In 2012 I quit my job, evolving from a book publicist into a full-time writer. And in 2013, I choreographed some aerial pieces, started a podcast with my friend, and…got pregnant. (Year of Creation, folks.)
I just realized that the above paragraph reads like an obnoxious little list of personal victories. Forgive me: what it’s intended to reveal is the underlying framework for the New Year’s word, which helps largely with fork-in-the-road decisions. Say, whether or not you and your partner should go off birth control.
But the New Year’s word is not magical. In the past few years, I have also: over drafted my bank account, set my shirt on fire while cooking (again in the “create” year), wondered if I was boring, experienced jealousy, forgotten important dates, been an asshole, and miscarried. So it’s not a cure-all, this New Year’s word, but a kinder, gentler way to approach the whole project of resolutions. There’s room to fail, and that is liberating.
Wheeling back around to the words themselves, I’ve decided that mine this year is both old-fashioned and fraught with tension. Here are the questions it inspires: “did she lose it? Is she trying to get it back? Did someone betray her?”
The word is “trust.” And the circumstances surrounding it aren’t particularly juicy. It’s more like I’ve having a hard time trusting that my pregnancy will be flawless, that I’ll be able to manage work and a baby, that I am not actually deeply narcissistic rather than instinctively maternal – and, well, you get the idea.
the New Year’s word helps largely with fork-in-the-road decisions.
So perhaps the New Year’s word is (like soups) the thing that you crave. A response to the last year’s foibles, and – I’m squirming as I say it! – an intention. Your background music for the year, your twelve month tone, and if not a classic resolution, a field of possibility. It may wear the guise of self-helpiness, but truly, the New Year’s word is a pragmatist’s best friend. It doesn’t underline hard goals, but it does follow rules: no manifesting, no multiples, and most importantly, no p’s.
So what’s your word?
This article originally published in The Renew Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine [January 2014].
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Culture & Lifestyle Columnist
Tolly Moseley is a freelance writer and journalist in Austin, TX.
With a focus on arts/culture and life, her work has appeared in Salon, Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine, on NPR Austin, and more.
She is also the voice behind the popular blog Austin Eavesdropper, and one half of the aerial silks performance duo Vayu Aerials.