I’ve decided that if this isn’t the year I stop biting my nails, I’m giving up on ever quitting. It’s been number one on my list of resolutions for every occasion since I can remember, and though I’ve never made more than a month’s worth of progress, I know now that it’s not so much a bad habit as it is a guilty pleasure.
Last month, in anticipation of the new year, I bought ten tiny glass jars and a set of multicoloured beads. I put together a list of habits – ones I’d been working on breaking and ones I was hoping to form – and gave each habit a jar and a corresponding colour. My aim would be to fill each jar as quickly as possible: to earn a bead for every habit, every day. This practice was partially inspired by a book I’d been lent earlier in the year. Atomic Habits by James Clear has been blurbed by the likes of Brené Brown and sold millions of copies. For me, its most important lesson was in shifting one’s focus from setting goals to creating systems; it seemed that slowly and consistently building habits into an already-established routine was the best way to create lasting change.
But for all my focus on the establishment of good habits, I often lose sight of who I am outside of who I’m trying to be. Resolving to change something about myself feels like committing to a version of me I haven’t met yet, and I find it hard to imagine a me who’s filled each of those ten jars to the brim – a me who stretches daily, who doesn’t pick at her skin…and those are just the dailies. Forget one-off resolutions like “go ice fishing” or “bowl a 150.” Almost all my achievements have been the result of repetition, endurance, or both. (“Writers write,” my friend’s mom once told me. In other words: you are what you do.)
My friend Brenda teaches grade six, and she avoids making resolutions with her students because she feels it puts unnecessary pressure on them. Instead, they come up with eight words they want to represent their year. Like gratitude journals, this strategy is about framing – or reframing – the narrative.
If you’ll allow me an English teacher moment.
The “re” in “resolution” tends to give me pause. Doesn’t it imply new packaging for the same old solution? In keeping with the spirit of this interpretation, my solutions are repackaged each year. To stop being a nailbiter, I’d have to stop biting my nails; it’s the only solution, but each new framework – beads in a jar, stickers on a chart – inspires new effort. Comparatively, the word “resolve” implies willpower. It implies a level of commitment and dedication difficult for me to muster. To be a writer who writes, I get up early and start typing. I do this every weekday morning because habits, because the practice marries who I am with who I wish to be, because if not now, when? To think that without this practice, I might not write at all…and if I’m not writing, I’m not a writer, and if I’m not a writer, then who am I at all?
On New Year’s, I drove to my friend’s house for a party. In advance of the event, she confessed that I was the only single female of the twenty-odd guests who’d hit “Going” on Facebook. This didn’t faze me. At no party before had I considered my own relationship status in relation to the other attendees’. How could something like that even matter? How could a person even tell?
But the first couple to arrive dressed in matching Oilers jerseys. Another couple came in matching silk pajamas. Most folks in attendance had bought or built their own houses. They talked about Air Miles, air fryers, and Dyson Airwraps. Nobody asked me who I was, what I did, or where I lived. I spent most of the night in the kitchen, watching one of the party’s three bachelors tend to a giant pot of laksa. At eleven, he left for a second party. I can’t ring the new year in with a bunch of couples in suburbia, he told me.
One of my friends had moved to Australia right before the pandemic; New Year’s was the second time I’d seen her since 2019. Towards the end of the party, she placed her hands on my shoulders and asked if I was okay.
Why? Do I not seem okay?
I would describe your vibe as ‘chill.’
Later, the host’s fiancé, whom I’ve known for seven years, found me sitting alone on the floor beside their dog’s bed. He laughed.
What are you doing?
Chillin’. What are you doing?
He told me that, in his experience of me as a person, a party did not historically elicit “chill” vibes. I knew what he meant, but he went on to refresh my memory:
On Canada Day that one year, you did a keg stand. Jay was literally wearing your shorts and doing squats in the kitchen.
That had been an excellent party. And it’s true that I’d switched pants with Jay, had allowed two strangers to pluck me from the grass and turn me upside down so I could check one more item off the generic college student bucket list. Was I just super boring now?
The couples around me seemed impenetrable. I didn’t know what I’d say to them even if I could figure out a way to crack open a conversation. I didn’t care what they did for work, how they knew the hosts, or how hard it was for them to find a babysitter. Contrary to the extrovert I used to be – the extrovert my friends all knew me to be – I realized that now, I didn’t feel like getting to know anyone new at all.
Whatever changed within me, whichever hand moved my piece from one camp to the other, brought me closer to who I know myself to be. I have a ram tattooed on my wrist, but my moon is a bull. (Co-Star Astrology, on why a Taurus leaves the party: “To cook carbonara at home.”) So sure enough, I left the party an hour before midnight. I drove home, leashed my dog, and took him around the block to hear the houses boom softly in muted celebration. I watched an episode of Succession and ate all the junk food left in the pantry. I fell asleep with the lights on.
January, thus far, has been Kafkaesque. Some of the glass jars on my desk have yet to meet a single bead. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, which means it’s hard for me to eat healthy if I’m not exercising regularly, or to look in the mirror and recite affirmations if, in my head, I’m talking shit.
Next weekend, my friends and I will gather for a new New Year’s party. We will toast midnight with tequila shots on an arbitrary, mid-January evening. In the morning, I’ll look with dread at those ten glass jars and all the space in them to fill. Who I am now thinks of them as daunting. Who I’d like to be sees opportunity in their emptiness.
I’ll leave you with some advice my friend Kit gave me, advice I’ll come back to in the face of future resolution-related struggles, because even though I don’t really endorse, “At least I’m not addicted to meth,” as an excuse for laziness on the self-improvement front, I am, in general, happy with the person I am, and I feel hopeful when I consider focusing less on changing her and more on listening to what she has to say.
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