At the beginning of 2019 I set a goal for myself to record three original songs for my new album, Sugar & Booze. Writing my own music had been a low priority for me until that point; the creative conversation I needed to have with myself was just too stressful
But because of my resolution I squeezed out one song, and it was actually fun. Since one of my other resolutions was to seek out work that was fun, I was accidentally succeeding.
After that the tunes kept coming. I was jumping out of the shower and singing into the phone. I decided, “I’m going to see this through. I’m going to keep going when I feel scared, and I’m going to finish it.” I’m so glad I did. The level of fulfillment I feel from making a record in my own voice, literally and figuratively, is bucket-list gratitude. And that’s what makes a great resolution.
When it comes to turning over new leaves, there are two categories of change: global (“Be a nicer person”) and micro (“Avoid sugar”). Both are achievable, if perilous. The first fight I have over which asshole in my family ate the sugar-free desserts is, obviously, a deal breaker on both counts. But if I allow myself a little leeway, the general ideas hold. I can try to mostly be nice, and I can mostly avoid candy.
It’s the micro micro-task resolutions that get you. The 90 subcategories. For example, saying that I’m going to go to the gym five times a week to do workouts for different muscle groups — plus agility, stretching, cardio, and endurance — is going to blow up in my face by the first Thursday. It’s easier to go with one guiding principle as a resolution, like “Work out sometimes.” Or “Only listen to podcasts on the treadmill.” Two years ago that one was a big success. I mean, I did start Serial in January and finish listening to it in November, so if we’re being technical about it, I went to the gym 12 times that year. But I did go, and now at least I can drop Sarah Koenig’s name at a party.
The thing with resolutions is that you can’t simply decide to be an entirely different person at the beginning of a new year. To successfully “resolve,” you have to work within the framework of who you are. That requires being honest with yourself. You’ve just got to pull off what you can and gracefully look the other way on the parts you can’t realistically swing. If you want to read more, know that getting through a book a week may be a fantasy. Fifty-two books is a lot. You start lofty by straddling both Just Mercy and The Goldfinch in January. Suddenly it’s August and you’re deliberately ploughing through the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series to hit your quota. How about picking up a book instead of your phone before bed every night? Even if you’re reading just a page, that’s something.
My advice is to choose a micro change that reflects who you are in the bigger sense. And, for God’s sake, come up with resolutions that make your life easier, not harder. We’re all insanely stressed out, spending our lives trying to get more shit done per second. So make your resolution work for you. It’s cheaper than an assistant and infinitely easier to manage than a child.
Believe me, I don’t resolve to make an album every year. Mostly I try to make life a bit less difficult. Here are a few resolutions I’ve successfully kept in the past 10 years:
- Pick up the phone when it rings. If you talk to the school counselor now, you won’t have to call her back later, avoiding both a to-do item and an afternoon of dread.
- Likewise, if you’re in your third set of bubbles in a text exchange, call the person you are tersely bubbling against. You have officially reached a text-tone impasse, and hearing each other’s voices will likely clear the misunderstanding. You will also prevent blowing your shoulder by angry texting, as I did once.
- Unpack immediately when you get home, and put your suitcase away. If not, you’ll spend a week tripping over it. You’ll also think you lost your favorite sweater, when in fact it’s still packed. Not to mention the kimchi you bought at that farmers’ market needs to get in the fridge, stat.
- When you go out to dinner, order the first thing that looks good. Otherwise, you fall into menu paralysis, and we have enough on our psychological plates as it is.
Of course, there are still times when I fall short. Mailing birthday cards to everyone, calling my mother-in-law every week, making family photo books of each vacation…luckily, there’s always next year.
Gasteyer is an actress and a singer. Her new album, Sugar & Booze, is out now.
For more stories like this, pick up the January issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Dec. 20.
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