Jan 1, 2007

Fresh Starts and Strong Finishes

by Rene Allen

It is January 1st and I'm making resolutions.

Now, I believe there are two ways to go with resolutions. The first, looking a lot like a book I've been working on for a decade or more, begins with a burst of fine motivation and excitement but fizzles into drudgery and neglect.

Regarding this memoir I've been chasing, I believe I finally have an acceptable first chapter, this after writing at least two dozen other first chapters. If I keep this pace of one chapter every ten years to its mathematical end, assuming there are 12 chapters, it will take only 110 more years to finish. I will be the oldest woman on the planet when it is published (whatever that means in 2117) and pictures of my wizened little face will most likely travel the globe with a cutesy caption about success at any age, etc., etc., etc. There may even be a string of enthusiastic but elderly fans at the door to an obscure assisted care facility waiting for a glimpse of a souped-up wheelchair and the spidery scrawl of a very old woman's autograph.

There is an alternative to this scenario, however, which is to change the way I write. Identifying and creating successful behaviors often precede completion of a goal. In this case, finishing the book before the next century means I will have to let go of a fussy perfectionism and create time and tools to help me achieve my goal of 4-6 pages a day. And, well, this sounds like a good plan for those resolutions I make every year and never quite finish, too.

Some of those good intentions have made the resolution list so many times I call them revolutions. Every year I write them down and every year the list gets lost in a haphazard stack of paper on my desk. They orbit away from my immediate attention and show up again in time for a December guilt trip. Lose 20 pounds has crept up to 50. Exercise has become find a heated pool so you can do water aerobics and not wreck your knees.

The late, acclaimed family therapist, Virginia Satir, said "There is always hope your life can change because you can always learn new things." Herein is the hope of a new year, to pull together whatever you have learned from your past experience and try again. In this light, failure happens only when you stop trying, and success is seen as small steps of mastery rather than a single, giddy lump of overnight achievement.

What I have learned from writing this first chapter is that the first draft of a book is not the finished book. If I have written one page, I can write another, If I have written one good chapter, I can write more. I must give myself room to write imperfectly and trust myself in the revisions. I can create time and space for this project. I can be consistent.

Regarding those universal bugaboos of weight loss and exercise, making a goal of losing weight is not sufficiently specific. It does not define the successful behaviors of weight loss nor does it acknowledge the tremendous disruption of lifestyle that a serious weight management and exercise program can be.

This year I have asked for help. My husband and I joined a gym and will work together with a trainer. For me, this means swallowing a lot of calorie-free humble pie because my nature is competitive and in this case, I will be at the bottom of the class. But the buddy system ups the chances for success. Likewise, I'm going to Weight Watchers and though I hate, I repeat, I hate doing it, I am writing down everything I eat because it is a hallmark of those who successfully lose weight.

A young man I know gave his mother a card that said "I know how I can make you happy. Lower your expectations." Regarding resolutions, I don't feel as if I'm lowering my expectations, but taking whatever wisdom I've acquired over six decades about human nature and rolling it into a fresh, new start.

It is Monday, January 1, 2007, a day for fresh starts and resolve for strong finishes.


  1. Wow, Rene, you were up early to post--or didn't make it to bed yet. Happy New Year!

  2. And you were worried about messing up? You have absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to doing this if this first post is any indication. BRAVO! I sincerely appreciate what you had to say. It touched me in so many ways. Thanks.

  3. Very nice job, Rene. I loved the line that said, "I will be the oldest woman on the planet when it is published (whatever that means in 2117) and pictures of my wizened little face will most likely travel the globe with a cutesy caption about success at any age, etc., etc., etc."

    You go, girl! You can do it. And if you don't get published until 2117, you'll just be in good company with the rest of us ol' wizened writers!:-)

    By the way, Prevention Magazine says that staying up repeatedly until 1:47 in the morning is what gives writers a wizened face. (Ok, I made that up, but wow, I can't believe you were posting at one in the morning!)

  4. About posting at 1:45 AM - we'd just gotten home from our children's. I think you've got something about sleep deprivation and wrinkles, though.

  5. Rene, I think you said it right! How many times have I made resolutions, only to find myself right back into old patterns or behavior. Good luck with the writing. I know it's on my resolve list!

  6. I liked it all, Rene, but was caught especially by your resolutions becoming your revolutions. Please, may I have your permission to use it? (I may anyway, but not in print.) You voiced my feelings. Thanks.

    By the way, with my one-hand keyboarding, I fore-went my usual resolutions list this year. But that's okay. I'll just put ditto marks on almost any of my past years'.


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