The Human Condition

By Martha E. Conway

(Jan. 2012) ’Tis the season for unrealistic expectations and setting ourselves up for failure. We are just finishing a holiday season – where, for far too many, the word “holiday” ought to appear in quotes – that is rife with self-induced stress and anxiety.

The end goal appears to be honorable enough, but really, folks, let those lofty dreams of perfection in all things end with Christmas.

Unfortunately, maybe out of a need to not give up holiday stress cold-turkey, people continue those unrealistic expectations by undertaking New Year’s resolutions. They are going to work out more, lose weight – lots of admirable health-related goals – but also to write that best-selling novel, earn their first million, ignore that undermining co-worker, stop fighting with their sister-in-law … and the list of exercises in futility goes on and on.

While it is good to set goals, setting achievable goals – or at least action steps or milestones toward a loftier one – will likely be more effective and fulfilling. Repeated “failures,” whether real or perceived, can be discouraging to the point of paralysis.

You also have to accept that some things simply are out of your control. While lots of resolutions require drastic lifestyle changes for the individuals, others rely on trying to control the behavior of others.

Good luck with that; all we can hope to control is our own reactions to those behaviors.

I have watched these patterns – including the failure part – since very young childhood and even then thought the effort stupid. Maybe not the effort so much, but the timing.

If you are miserable at your job, resolve to define exactly why – management, actual job responsibilities, co-workers – and start polishing your resume. If you are miserable at home – chaos, disharmony, interior décor, family dynamics – identify the pieces over which you have control and make changes.

When you find yourself on Monday wishing it were Friday or praying that your kids will outgrow the current “phase” of behavior they are in, all you are doing is wishing away the days of your life (and their childhoods).

And if you’re miserable at work, chances are you are making others around you – who may normally enjoy their jobs – miserable, too.

It is hard to imagine any facet of any person’s life that could not stand a little improvement, but the key to change is to recognize that potential for improvement when it appears and seize the moment. It is easier to make minor adjustments all year long than to try and implement sweeping changes the day after one of the country’s biggest drinking holidays of the year.

It can be embarrassing admitting you don’t have any resolutions or broke your resolutions on Jan. 2, but nobody has ever died of embarrassment, no matter how much they may have wanted to. If you absolutely feel you cannot stomach resolving to do nothing and must gear up for the New Year with a resolution or two, resolve to do something reasonable and manageable … but resolve to do it in the moment, not when some nebulous date appears on the calendar when you flip the page.

As author Barbara Sher wrote, it’s only too late if you don’t start now. And it is never too late to take action to improve your quality of life. Instead of beginning your vows to make changes with, “As of Jan. 1, I resolve to (or not to) …,” trying saying instead: “As of NOW, I will …”

You may find THAT day begins your own personal New Year.

Martha E. Conway is Managing Editor for the Madison County Courier. She can be reached at 315.813.0124 or by emailing Follow her on Twitter at or Facebook at

By martha

One thought on “Resolve to do … Nothing”
  1. Hi, Martha,

    So enjoyed your commentary above. Such sensible points about setting ourselves up for failure and some things simply not being in our control.

    We put this huge burden on ourselves and then hate ourselves later – such a pity. I love your suggestions that we define why something is a problem, and identify what we can control.

    I was delighted to see you mention my favorite writer/philosopher, Barbara Sher. Her It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start Now literally saved me from a slough of despond several years ago. All her books from Wishcraft onwards are terrific, actually. I have happily used her method of setting small, realistic goals, one step at a time.
    Also love her concept that even if we can’t, say, suddenly become a movie star or some such astonishing feat, we can accomplish “the heart of what we love.” For example, if it’s acting, we can join a local little theater group. If we love singing, maybe the Met isn’t ready for us, but we can join the church choir, and so on. Giving our gifts to the world (and ourselves) that way.

    Thanks again, Martha. Great article!

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