Yes, We Can't

Greg Dawson doesn’t worry about the temptation of making New Year’s resolutions; he’s had the some one for 25 years and counting.

A quarter century ago I made a New Year’s resolution that I’m proud to say I have kept. I resolved never to make another New Year’s resolution.

Granted, that’s setting the bar low. But after many years of breaking resolutions involving deeply ingrained habits (leaving kitchen cupboards open) and bodily appetites (eating peanut butter straight from the jar), I was desperate for success.

I finally had to admit that, like Oscar Wilde, I could resist everything except temptation. Clearly, the key to success was to make a New Year’s resolution that required me to resist as little temptation as possible. I felt that resolving never to make another one was doable, a good fit for someone with my short supply of resolve, self-discipline and what my junior high gym teacher called stick-to-itiveness. Even so, it hasn’t been easy.

Every New Year’s Day, I’m surrounded by resolution-makers. The Journal of Clinical Psychology says 45 percent of Americans made at least one resolution for 2014. That’s 142 million resolutions, minimum. They’re like Lay’s potato chips. It’s so tempting to make false promises to yourself, you can’t make just one.

And since the failure rate for resolutions is 88 percent—that’s a .120 batting average in baseball—you need to make a bunch in the slim hope that maybe one will survive.

Why do people do it? Because we always have.

Babylonians were the first to make resolutions, marking the new year by promising their gods to repay debts and return borrowed items. (Note to self: Return my neighbor’s hedge trimmer.)

In America, the tradition of swearing off fun on New Year’s Day began with the Puritans, who favored resolutions on self-improvement, which did not include “Develop a sense of humor” and “Invite a witch to lunch.”

Resolutions have changed along with America since the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards cranked them out by the dozen.

Edwards, circa 1735: “Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently that I may find and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of them.”

Snooki, circa 2014: “My New Year’s resolution is to build a muscular ass.”

The temptation on New Year’s Day to succumb to peer pressure and break my resolution not to make resolutions will be intense. “Just don’t do it” will be my mantra as those around me resolve willy-nilly.

That’s not to say there are no resolutions that I could—and probably should—make, among them:

I resolve not to leave the toilet lid up.

I resolve not to waste so much time on basketball chat boards.

I resolve to read the fine print in my annuity contract.

I resolve to stop placing the salt shaker out of my wife’s reach.

I could go on, but why bother? I couldn’t keep these resolutions even if I made them, which I can’t because that would break the only one I’ve ever kept.

I leave the making and keeping of resolutions to better men such as Orlando Magic co-founder Pat Williams—promotional genius, cancer survivor, father of 19, author of 88 books, guru of motivation, leadership and success. Does he think New Year’s resolutions are a good thing?

“Probably not,” he told me. “You need to make a resolution every day if it’s going to be successful. If you wait till January 1, it’s not going to work.”

Williams has had mixed results with resolutions. One year he resolved to read the entire Bible “from Genesis to Revelation. I got into Leviticus sometime in February and that was the end of that,” he said. “It was too hard, too dry.”

He has impressive streaks going on two others.

“I was about 10 years old,” Williams said. “There were serious drinking problems on both sides of my family. I made a resolution that I was never going to take a drink of alcohol in my life, and that resolution has held.”

Fast-forward to New Year’s Day 1968. At just 27, Williams was president and general manager of the Spartanburg, S.C., Phillies minor-league baseball team.

“Under pressure, I had fits of rage and a bad tongue. I made a resolution that I would not allow another curse word to leave my lips. It has held, though I’ve probably choked off a few in my throat.”

Williams has one resolution for the New Year. “To find $25 million to help build the multiple myeloma center at Florida Hospital. The theme is ‘Magic one more time.’ 2015 is the year we gotta get it done.”

Meanwhile, there’s a jar of Peter Pan in the pantry calling my name.

Categories: Column