For years my list of New Years resolutions looked like a self-help book table of contents.  I resolved to be a better person, a more efficient person, a healthier person, a more thrifty person.  I resolved to jog, to eat less, to read more, to meditate.  If there was something to improve, it was probably on my list at one time or another.

Despite my efforts at keeping my well-intentioned and overblown resolutions, each year I eventually reverted to the same pre-improved person who wrote the list.  I’d be more vigilant for a while, but it was only a matter of time until I was back to my pre-resolution state of being. Sometimes the resolutions lasted for a few months.  Other times I didn’t get out of the starting blocks.

A few years ago I set the bar low.  My only resolution was “Drink more water.”  Despite the benefits, simplicity, and ease, within a few months I was back to living underhydrated.  Maybe I should have resolved to “Drink more wine.”  That would have been more intrinsically motivating.

Nowadays I resist making resolutions.  After all, there’s nothing inherently special about January 1.  It’s just another day on the calendar, right?  It is only what I make of it.

Yet, despite my aversion to resolutions, this time of year does something to me.  I do start thinking in terms of renewal.  I begin to have visions of starting over, of clearing things out, of simplifying, of trying harder on some things and giving up on others.  After Christmas I begin looking forward to doing my life somehow differently.  I can’t seem to save myself from the urge to make resolutions of some sort even though it feels like I am setting myself up for something.

So here I am staring at my new 2012 calendar.  There’s not a mark in it.  No appointments, no plans, no notes of what I did last week or plan to do next week.  So how shall I approach this New Year, this arbitrary turning of the calendar page that holds the potential for turning over a new leaf?

If I could just do the basics, my life would be improved:  remember my low-dose aspirin each morning, take a daily multivitamin, stretch in the morning so I don’t pull something during the day, don’t lift with my back, eat smaller portions, don’t watch stupid things on TV, that sort of thing.  If I just did the daily basics, I wouldn’t need resolutions.

But alas, I feel the need to shoot higher, to aspire to something loftier so I don’t feel like a slug.  But how can I move forward with optimism without setting myself up for disappointment?

The fact is, I cannot escape my pre-resolution self, the best and the worst of me.  When I am at my best, I am open and accepting, compassionate and patient, I listen without judgment, I work hard, relax well, laugh more frequently, and cry more freely.  At my best I remember stuff because I am paying attention.  I have greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of the present moment and of the people nearby.

At my worst, I am judgmental, impatient, and cynical.  I listen only until I have a retort, I waste time, I fidget, and I neither laugh nor cry as often.  I forget stuff because I’m distracted, either ruminating about some past event or worrying about something up ahead.  I can appear jovial or sympathetic, but the observant person can see through me.

Maybe I just need to remember some words from a friend.

“You are always deciding what kind of person you want to be.” 

With every decision, every interaction, every statement, I am deciding who I want to be.

I am sometimes at my best, sometimes at my worst, and most of the time somewhere in between.  When I’m at my best, I need to be grateful for the moment.  When I’m at my worst, I need to admit it and apologize to whomever is collateral damage in my words or actions or neglect.  I need to keep asking myself throughout the day, “Is this the person I want to be?”  Then my resolution is no longer about self-improvement.  It’s about paying attention, about being more intentional, honest, and authentic.