Health

I Resolve to Quit Nothing in 2021

I failed at my goals this year. Why shouldn’t I have?
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, US
December 8, 2020, 12:00pm
I Resolve to Quit Nothing in 2021
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An end-of-the-year series about ditching what isn't working anymore, especially generalized approaches to "self-improvement."

Rather than languishing in guilt over my lack of personal progress this year, I’m trying out a whole new approach for 2021. I’m less concerned with what I can add or subtract, and more into vibing with the stuff I already know I love: my stupid little habits. I refuse to ditch them in the new year. 

December usually marks a period of thoughtful reflection. Normally, during these final few weeks, you might look at your life and think, What can I introduce or take away in order to be a few percentage points better as an individual? 

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Most New Year’s resolutions hinge upon this very thought exercise: We're ditching cigarettes, drinking less, exercising more, blah blah. At the end of 2019, my resolutions followed this logic. In the gas bubble of optimism that comes with a brand-new year, I came up with little tweaks to make myself an ultimately happier person. According to a note I made on my iPhone on the first day of January 2020, I wanted to ask strangers questions, instead of sitting there quietly wondering things like, What is this great music that the bartender (who is five feet away from me) playing? and to read more instead of passively watching hours of ambient TV. I staked my new self on low-lift resolutions—small additions to my regular life that might, someday, add up to some grander feeling of improvement and growth. 

Of course—as everyone is saying!—2020 had other plans. The conditions of this year eliminated the possibility of talking to strangers (at least in person). My brain, preoccupied with thoughts of structural violence and death, could only focus on the sublime, animated landscape of King of the Hill and a roster of reality television shows. Rather than seeing quarantine as a time for personal projects and/or fitness routines, I regressed. The siren call to grow and improve only added to the cacophony of misery in the air, when so many people had lost the foundation they were supposed to be "building" from in the first place. 

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I carried around and occasionally stared at a small piece of paper I kept in my wallet. On it, a bartender had written down the titles of a few songs that I’d liked so much, I walked back to the bar after closing my tab to ask him about. I’d planned on using this shred of paper as a visceral, thumbable reminder of what good can come when you ask for things, per my resolution. 

Instead, as time passed, the list served as a weird relic from before times that felt unfairly deluded. How dare I think this year could be filled with charming interactions with strangers? I ordered hordes of books. I’m saving the bookstores!!, I thought, and then I read none of them. The spines multiplied on the shelves of my TV-facing shelves, keeping me company as I sat and watched hours of TV. 

I dove deeper into a series of self-soothing tactics that ranged in depravity. For months, I refused to listen to anything other than streams of Honky Tonk Happy Hour from Marfa Public Radio. There was a slight pivot to using my mom’s XM radio info to stream hours and hours of Willie’s Roadhouse and the Beatles station. I watched every 500-episode season of Love Island, absolutely stomping all over my own goal to “read.”! I dallied with a slew of Bachelor podcasts, rotating between a few as my soundtrack for falling asleep and dreaming of sequined dresses and roses without thorns.

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In this hellscape, I did manage to come up with something that felt original: Standing over a bowl of cookie dough, I realized I could omit the chocolate chips, put the dough in a container, and eat it from the fridge whenever I wanted (the chips, when refrigerated, are so hard they could crack a tooth; I like the plain dough better). This is what a depressed person does, I thought with satisfaction, eating pinches of brown sugar and butter. 

I considered feeling bad about my forgone resolutions. I quickly changed course when feeling bad felt even worse than I bargained for. Besides, I mostly didn’t feel depressed; I felt comforted. A revelation? I went with it, becoming  enamored with Target haul videos on TikTok; feeling soothed by the familiar, warm lights of big box stores; practically smelling the popcorn machine by the entry. When the temperatures dipped, I dedicated myself to having a Christian Girl Autumn and downloaded the Starbucks app, engrossing myself in it each day to craft complicated, syrupy drink concoctions. (Of note: I was previously an ardent drinker of black coffee only, because in happier years, I fucked with aesthetic nihilism. This year, in a bid for self-architecture, I opted for the frou-frou, filling my coffees with accessories, loving every sugar-filled sip of them.) 

Now—not to brag—but I’ve racked up more than 200 Stars: little customer loyalty rewards Starbucks doles out for spending money there. I do not intend to actually do anything with what I've "worked" for in this respect because looking at all my Stars feels like a marker of something accomplished. Not that that’s what any of this is about!

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By all metrics: I failed in my goals this year. Why shouldn’t I have? Small tasks—let alone larger ambitions— proved insurmountable in 2020. My resolutions shifted from ways to improve to ways to avoid constant panic over the laundry list of imminent, very bad realities and near futures. When I stopped looking at my isolation habits as “bad” and instead assessed what they actually meant to me—a few hours of mind-numbing peace in Arlen, Texas; tiny pinches of sweetness from a bowl in my kitchen; “that first-sip feeling,” as the Starbucks cups say—it was clear that things I’d previously avoided were actually helping, in their strange, soothing ways. 

I never would have written a New Year’s resolution to consume more sugar and watch more cartoons, yet those were the things I precisely wanted and needed. Barring a bout of salmonella from raw cookie dough (which may be nothing more than an old wives' tale to scare children away from it—someone check on this), there's nothing particularly bad about the semi-gross ways in which I created an enclave of peace in a tumultuous year, I know now.

The forces churning above us aren't aspiring to achieve much to close out the year themselves: Nancy Pelosi is tap-dancing away from a stimulus check; the president is… whatever he's doing. For lack of other support, I don't think it's regressive or wack or worthless to feel like there's a floor beneath your feet and a sweet taste in your mouth as we fight our way into the next year. The events of this year have emphasized the importance of directing energy toward community and reform over a list of small tasks that stand in for “personal growth.” Our sad state doesn’t represent a need to demand more of ourselves, but a need to demand more of the entire system. Watching King of the Hill in the downtime doesn’t determine a person’s place within the global crisis, but it may serve as a small comfort as you move through; continue on.

Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.