How many of your New Year’s resolutions do you follow through on? Oh, none? Cool, me neither. I crumble under the pressure of “I will eat less brownies this year” and instead lean into way more brownies. And not like “lean in” as suggested by Sheryl Sandberg. I mean that I literally lean into a plate of brownies on our kitchen counter and plop my head on top of the pile like I’m Bread Face Blog (and then eat them). It was that type of gluttonous behavior that prompted me about five years ago to ditch the typical New Year’s resolution and try out a different kind of annual, self-actualizing ritual: the New Year’s motto.
Where the New Year’s resolution is traditionally something specific that you vow to do (learn to make bread, meditate for 10 minutes a day, give yourself more ‘me time’) or stop doing (texting and driving, biting fingernails, talking on the phone in public while on speaker because nobody in Trader Joe’s wants to hear every stupid detail of your stupid weekend). However, the New Year’s motto is different. It’s a more of a lifestyle choice, an ideological guide if you will. And unlike the resolution which you either a) do, rendering it useless in the future or b) don’t do, rendering it useless in the present, the motto can become your guiding theme all year long — and even beyond.
The key to coming up with a good New Year’s motto is to keep it tight – three or four words max. Something catchy that gets stuck in your brain like the chorus to “Hey Ya.” The motto should be general enough to work across a lot of areas of your life, not uber-specific like “LOSE DAT FAT” or “MUMBLING IS BUMBLING.” I could use both of those mottos actually, but they’re basically just resolutions vaguely disguised as mottos.
My favorite of my New Year’s mottos is “JUST FIND OUT.” My wife and I came up with “Just Find Out” because we’re often too lazy or simply scared to find out the answer to certain questions, both large and small. In the past, we’d wonder casually if our health insurance was going to go up or if the Szechuan Chicken that the waiter just brought out was actually on another customer’s table for the last three minutes. But “Just Find Out” meant we had to ask – not just speculate and watch life whip by like a waiter at a Chinese restaurant. From now on we would boldly just find out anything we wanted to know (answer to both of the previous concerns: yes).
Some of our mottos haven’t been as successful. One year, with a few glasses of New Year’s Eve champagne in me, the motto “TELL IT LIKE IT IS” seemed like a good idea. It was empowering to have the straight-talking wind at my back. Shortly after “Tell It Like It Is” was born, I hosted a party, and I met my friend’s date who looked down into her Shiraz and barely said hello, initially. Once my friend told her that I was the party’s host, though, she came to life, giving me a big “OH HI!” In the past, I’d accept this lame behavior, or at most, I’d complain about it to my wife later. But instead, with “Tell It Like It Is” propelling me forward, I said to her “Why do I get a big greeting now, but when I was just some random schmo at the party, you barely said hello?’” The Shiraz-drinker did not love that, and neither did my friend. In fact, it turns out that as satisfying as it can be to tell it like it is, many people would rather you tell like it isn’t.
The motto “PUSH IT REAL GOOD” was also short-lived, mainly because it was meant to be motivational – like push yourself out of your comfort zone. However, I kept hearing the motto as Salt & Pepa originally intended (“P-P-PUSH IT REAL GOOD”), which made everything weirdly sexual. For example, I’d be at a school function, and because I suck at small talk, I wouldn’t be socializing with the other parents as much as I should. But then I’d remind myself to push myself real good to try, only to finally chat with a group of Dads but not be able to pay attention because I kept hearing Salt and/or Pepa moan “AH PUSH IT…”
Now you might be reading this, thinking, “OK, guy, you’re just a lightweight Malcolm Gladwell who came up with one good motto and doesn’t want to give up eating brownies.” Fair. But still, I’d rather strive for a cool three word life-altering philosophy each new year than some meaningless resolution that I’ll forget about in two minutes. Maybe that’s my new motto for the coming year: “LAST MORE THAN TWO MINUTES.” It’s about creating things with staying power! We live in such a temporary Snapchat world, and I’m sick of it! Lemme say this motto out loud!!! OK, actually, as I say it out aloud, I realize this motto is definitely inappropriate and not what I intended. My apologies. I will keep searching.