As a child, you assume that the world is either entirely orderly or pure chaos; growing older and understanding that neither is particularly true can be a paralyzing recognition of the challenging mountains that life presents. The uncertainty may feel like an elephant on your chest.
But one fateful morning in middle school science class, where I first learned of Newton’s First Law of Motion, which states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion (also known as ‘momentum’), I saw the peaks before me shift into ramps so that I may fly, if I flapped my wings (or, in my case, big ears). Learning that such a succinct force governed the universe was a new dawn, informing me of how to carve away those mountains before me: pebble by pebble, feeding that elephant a single peanut at a time.
One of the most annoying tidbits passed around every Christmastime is that gym memberships increase by about 12% each January, as the population attempts their “New Year’s Resolutions,” with these figures dropping off only a month later. I was a pedantic child, who grew up to be a very pedantic man, so at literally no point have I felt anything other than dumbfounded shock that people assign self-improvement to something so arbitrary as buying a new calendar, only to give up after flipping a single page.
Losing weight, reading more books, and pursuing any form of self-improvement is an obviously noble goal…but how quickly will you revert to confirmation bias when you bite off more than you can chew, doze off before you finish the chapter, or grow weary of the pursuit by St. Patrick’s Day? No one will punish you for making, breaking, and then ignoring a promise you made to yourself, but to then reach another New Years and again lie, “This is my time, this is the year I do it” is an exercise in insanity, is it not?
The root word of ‘resolution’ is ‘resolve,’ which is a misunderstood concept; many New Year’s resolutions fail because they lack the respect in acknowledging the inherent promise to oneself, a person who is just as important as any other.
The first rule of self-improvement is to not assign it to something as arbitrary as the date. Want to get into shape? Start today. Give yourself one task, like doing one sit-up; tease the elephant on your chest with a single peanut, and you’ll be surprised how fast that formidable foe can move. But drop a tiny mouse behind it, give yourself a small ultimatum: if you miss a day of pursuing your resolution, you’re not allowed to indulge in your favorite food or drink for a week.
The next day, increase your measurement by one: two sit-ups. The elephant might struggle to eat both at once but it sure won’t want that mouse to catch up. You will climb your mountain, because you’re only emphasizing one pebble at a time and maintaining a rhythm that will enforce itself; by focusing on the momentum carried toward a goal rather than the speed, you will develop a habit, which is infinitely less stupid than a ‘resolution’ as it has a rather compelling enforcement mechanism: your happiness and state of mind.
The Grand Canyon didn’t ‘resolve’ to carve itself into a schism so spectacular, it did it drop-by-drop, with the threat of not reaching the ocean as motivation. It can be so difficult to grow up, mature, and improve because we request results all at once and activate our attempts so abruptly. You cannot simply install an improvement into your life, it must be adopted, grown, and maintained.
Pick any improvement and break it into daily 1% increments: in just over three months you’ll achieve it. It’s exactly that easy and exactly that difficult. Setting a slow-yet-steady rhythm of advancement will slowly transform your resolution into a trait, one which will be hard to peel from your identity. It took a long time to build Rome and a long time for it to fade; anything built brick-by-brick cannot decay any other way. One cannot ‘have’ their New Year’s resolution; one must become it.
Never again wait until the Januarys of your life to address your elephant in the room, for it’s not actually sitting on your chest, it’s nudging you. Scratch it behind the ears, hop on the saddle, scale the mountains before you, and prance over the edge. No matter how heavy it seems, you have my (and Newton’s) word: anything with a running start can fly.
Jesse Stewart is a writer, filmmaker, and now student at Regis University. Despite working around the world he’ll always be happy to call Colorado home (unless it’s snowing on I-25)