From Resolution to Habit

Social Media IllustrationsIt was almost one year ago when I posted about my (pre)New Year’s resolution. And since it has almost been a year, I figured I would give an update, just in case anyone remembers or cares. (Read the original post here.)

I have, in fact, kept my resolution to be less dependent on social media/my iPhone. In fact, within a couple months of making this resolution, a friend told me she had decided to give up Facebook for Lent. At the time, I felt somewhat smug: I didn’t need to give it up because I had already majorly dialed back my social media usage. After the 40 days were up, I asked her if she missed Facebook, and she said that she didn’t; she had deleted the app from her phone and felt no urge to download it again. After breaking the habit, she wasn’t eager to start it again.

It reminded me of my relationship with food. By cutting out most carbs and sugars over the past year, not only have I lost weight that I thought I would have to carry around forever, but I’ve lost the urge to eat carbs and sugars. No more crazy cravings, no more roaring hunger. Even though I could “afford” to cheat a little, I don’t want to.

These aren’t just “I wish I could” resolutions that look good from the perspective of December 31st. While it feels too grandiose to say that they are paradigm shifts, they definitely take resolve (hello). What we consume—both physically and mentally—contributes to our lifestyles, and if you want to be more than one of the huge percentage of people whose resolutions are laughable, you have to be willing to make a shift—and not shift back.

When my teaching position transitioned into a year-round, full-time job late in the spring, I realized that I needed to tighten down on what free time I had left. While I didn’t feel the need to cut out social media altogether, leaving my phone in a different room overnight and in my purse when out with my family wasn’t enough. So I made a new, mid-year resolution: only check Facebook once a day. What this looks like is that I now check my notifications once (usually in the morning), and if I have a couple spare minutes, I scroll through a couple new posts. I even moved Facebook out of my iPhone’s home row, so it’s not a one-click option anymore. While it bothered me at first that I wouldn’t be as “in touch” anymore, I find that I really don’t miss it. If ever I’m curious about whether a friend finally had her baby, for example, I’ll search for that friend. I am no longer a social media tool; it is a tool that I can use when I choose.

Call me a bad Millennial—it won’t hurt my feelings—I’ve always known I was more of an old-fashioned girl. With my kids getting older and closer to that age when they’ll want smartphones of their own, I resolve to be the example of a person who uses technology responsibly, and I hope they will follow suit.

I Still Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

I first posted “I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions” at the end of 2012, a post about all the books I hoped to read in 2013 (four of which are still on my current list). And aside from the title, I didn’t go into an explanation of why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. So here I am again, and this time I’ll try not to leave you hanging.

It seems that we can thank the Puritans for New Year’s resolutions. Abstaining from the revelry of the pagans, they instead reflected on the year past and the year to come. If you’re the introspective type, this could be a very constructive exercise. For instance, if you look over a year and see a lot of wasted spending, you could resolve to spend money more wisely, thus saving to buy a car or put a down payment on a house. And considering that Christmas is exactly one week before New Year’s Day, there are the ever-popular gym and diet resolutions. Many people take these seriously at first, only to fail when they realize that a month in the gym does not a truly fit person make or that getting up at 4:30 during the week is a tough commitment to keep.

So instead of using resolutions for their original, thoughtful purpose, we’ve turned them into a mockery. If you follow social media at all, you’ve likely read a number of resolutions from the snarky to the absurd:

Resolution 01

Resolution 02


Resolution 05

Resolution 07

And I just couldn’t resist this one (it’s for you, Thomas):

Resolution 08

And then there are just the sad ones. You know the ones: they’re the same resolutions that get made over and over again every year, as if this time they will actually happen – except they never do:

Resolution 03

So I’ve never made New Year’s resolutions. That isn’t to say that I don’t make resolutions at all. If you know me, I’m extremely goal-oriented, so it would seem that this kind of thing is right up my alley. Not so. I have enough of a hard time keeping up with the stuff that I want to do throughout the year.

For example, when my kids spent a weekend at their grandparents’ house over the summer, I stayed up past three A.M. cleaning up their messes (check out the before and after photos here). And after that, I resolved that the house would be clean (well, mess-free, not necessarily dusted and vacuumed) every night before I went to bed. It was something I stuck with until Christmas (read about that here). But one week later, I was on the wagon again (so to speak) and cleaned the house. The only clue that Christmas even happened is that our dining room table is now a Lego train station.

I’ve also made lifestyle resolutions before, although never at New Year’s. The original resolution: to lose weight by exercising. Hey, it worked, but I had to keep it up in order to stay in shape. I did this through two pregnancies. I continued when my elder son started school, even though it meant waking up at 4:30 in order to get a workout in.

For the longest time, I could blame any weight gain on terrible dietary choices. I would eat healthier and lose weight, but unlike my exercise-all-the-time resolution, the eating healthier thing was on-again, off-again until I decided to go wheat free.

But it wasn’t the antidote to my problem. Sure, I lost weight but gained it all back, plus 10 pounds. I gained weight on carrot sticks, for crying out loud, so why not just eat pizza? I allowed myself to get sucked into the resolution black hole that consumes so many well-meaning individuals early every year.

It wasn’t until my doctor told me that there was a very good reason (hypothyroidism) for gaining weight while eating carrots that I realized that I needed help to keep my resolution. After hearing two hours’ worth of dietary history, she put forth a plan to get my body back to equilibrium without living on a prescription, and the first step was to go gluten-free again. Now, however, I am accountable to someone other than myself, and although it may sound backwards, I finally feel the wonderful liberation of being able to share responsibility for my resolution.

The gluten-free thing was for December. But after Christmas, when there would be fewer tempting foods hanging around the house, I had to go totally grain free, as well as dairy free (or very limited dairy). Sounds kind of like a New Year’s resolution, doesn’t it? Except that it took three or four days after New Year’s to eat all the gluten-free pizza and drink my fill of Coolattas. I felt a bit like:

Resolution 06

I’ve never considered going fully Paleo before. After all, I love dairy. This isn’t even a resolution I would adopt, even if I did New Year’s resolutions. But because it’s what my doctor thinks will fix my problem, I’ve dropped grains and had almost no dairy to speak of for the past five days. This will be my lifestyle for at least three to six months, at which point my body may have healed itself enough to add a few of those prohibited foods back into my diet upon occasion.

Although it is certainly not always the case, many of the people whom I’ve seen keep their own resolutions (no matter when they’re made) are the ones who must make a change or face unpleasant physical consequences. Having hypothyroidism is no picnic, but in less than a week of living this resolution-like lifestyle, I have lost over two pounds that I could not shed before, and miraculously, I only crave food that I’m actually allowed to eat. If things keep progressing like this, it may not take much will power at all to keep myself on track.

I hope that whenever we seriously resolve to do something, we all make our best efforts and stay accountable. That way, if we do actually decide to take a step back in eleven-and-a-half months and see what we did with our year, we won’t say:

Resolution 04

Instead, we can pat ourselves on the back, say, “Job well done,” and not have any regrets so dire that they require nearly-impossible resolutions to fix.

Oh, and if you just want more beard, more power to you.

I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions


Never have. But there is a certain goal that I have for the near future – let’s say 2013. You see, it’s been a while since I’ve lived in a novel. I’m talking about the kind of book that won’t let me go. The kind of book that I can’t set down if I walk from the couch to the kitchen. The kind of book that makes me forget to eat, that makes me stay up past my bedtime. I read several earlier this year, starting with Suzanne Collins‘s The Hunger Games trilogy. Not only did I let those three books consume me, but I made them consume my family as well. I waited with foot-tapping impatience for first my husband and then my parents to read them. I felt like I was betraying those books when I moved on to a completely different series, starting with Diana Gabaldan’s Outlander. And at first, I wasn’t excited, but I’d promised a friend I would read it. It was jarring to move from dystopian young adult lit to a very adult time travel-slash-love story, but I eventually got into it and had the same can’t-put-it-down kind of experience. I could not wait to get my hands on the next book, Dragonfly in Amber.

The problem was that, after I finished Outlander, my life changed in many ways. My elder son graduated from a two-day preschool to preschool five days a week. My infant son became mobile, and the more he moved around, the less freedom (and free time) I had. I rejoined the staff of the University of North Florida’s literary journal Fiction Fix after more than four years off. My responsibilities are lighter than when I left—reading submissions, commenting on them, and voting—but with seven submissions every week (and no guarantee that any of them will be short), I read a lot of fiction that I might not otherwise choose. Within a month of getting back on board with Fiction Fix, I started this blog. Then I took on a book review project for a publishing company. I thought I would have time to read those books alongside my own for-fun reading, but I eventually took my fiction in sips to meet the review deadline. A couple weeks later, I started a four-year Education for Ministry program through Sewanee’s School of Theology. Finally, I decided to try my hand at e-publication, which required much research, even more reading, and, of course, writing (check out my story “Stranded” at

And it wasn’t as if I was sitting around, wondering what to do before. I had a day job and a twenty-one mile, one-way commute; I volunteered at my church and my son’s school; I sang in a volunteer community chorus that rehearsed once a week. Oh, and the freelance writing thing. Can’t forget that. I didn’t stop doing any of those things. I just piled on the fun.

I choose how full my life is, and I love all its varied facets. Things could be easier if I lived a little closer to the action, but everything else is pretty much a constant. And my kids aren’t even into sports or other extracurricular activities yet. I can only imagine how much busier it will be then. Kiss sleep (what’s left of it) good-bye. But not my books—never that! I have to consciously choose not to make a book stretch over two (or more) months. So here I am, trying to make myself accountable.

With Fiction Fix, at least I read a constant stream of fiction. If nothing else, I’m aware of how I don’t want to write by reading an unfortunate number of bad submissions. But I really want to read things that inspire me. In fact, that’s a requirement for writing. I want–need–to read something that hurts to put down, something that makes me want to pick up my own pen (or laptop) and write.

In May 1996, I first heard about schools requiring students to read twenty-five books per year, so I decided to create a list of the books I read to see how I measured up. I’ve kept up with it in the sixteen-plus years since. Fiction to non-fiction, novella to super novel, self-help to founding documents of the United States—if it’s too long to be in a magazine, and it’s complete, I count it. Some years, I barely read more than twenty-five, while several others, I’ve read over one hundred. I squeaked by with thirty from May of 2011 to this past May. I’m already at sixteen for this twelve-month period, so I feel pretty good about reading another nine in the next five months. But I don’t just want to pick up nine quick reads to make my goal. There are books I own that I’ve wanted to read for more than a year, and you now know why I haven’t been able to so much as open them.

When I was pregnant in 2007, my goal was to read every book in the house, 1) because I didn’t need to spend money on new books when I already owned so many that I hadn’t read, and 2) because I didn’t know if I would ever have time to read again after having my baby. I finished all the books I had, then read all of my husband’s. If I did it then, I will find a way to do it now, and I’m even giving myself an extra three months to do so (although I hope I can read much more during that time).

Below is my list, including two books that people lent to me, so I need to read and return them in a timely manner. You can follow my progress on Goodreads (at the sidebar on the left), and get on my case if I’m not reading quickly enough. And if you have any recommendations, why not send them my way? I love a challenge.

Voyager (Outlander) and Drums of Autumn (Outlander) by Diana Gabaldon

11/22/63: A Novel and The Wind Through the Keyhole (Dark Tower Novels) by Stephen King

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Inheritance (The Inheritance Cycle) by Christopher Paolini (which basically means I need to re-read the preceding three books in the series, too)

The Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus, Book 1), The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus, Book 2), and The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, Book 3) by Rick Riordan

The Help Deluxe Edition by Kathryn Stockett