Help Me Keep A New Year’s Resolution

Help Me Keep A New Year’s Resolution January 1, 2013

New Year’s is a time for cached thoughts.   When people ask about resolutions, my first thoughts are “Should I be not eating something?  Or doing cardio?”  We tend to run down the list of cliche resolutions and decide which we should take on.  The standard resolutions may not be particularly well-tailored to you, but it’s about as hard to ignore the defaults as to not think of an elephant.

So, I have a wacky workaround.  Instead of thinking of disciplines to take on (we tend to grade New Year’s Resolutions as virtuous in proportion to how unpleasant they are), I imagine filling out a DnD character sheet for myself next year.  After a whole year of taking on quests and gaining XP (experience points), I am presumably more awesome/adept/virtuous.  So, I just need to think about what I’m most interested in levelling up.  Here are some questions that I find helpful to meditate on, and which are off-the-wall enough that I don’t fall into cached thoughts ruts:

  • What existing skills will I level up in?
  • What cross-class new skills do I want to study?
  • What new feats will I be able to do?
  • What new objects will I have acquired and put in my bag of holding?
  • What songs do I expect to have sung of my adventures?
  • What big boss villains will I now have the fortitude to take on?
  • At the end of the year, what will I have added to my character’s backstory?

I’m still working out answers to some of these (ASL and martial arts are definitely under the leveling up skills category, whereas spiritual development and any prospects for romance both fall under backstory, with an option on epic songs).  Mostly, I find it helpful to reframe and think about what I actually want to achieve before I start assigning myself tasks.  And thinking about which goals change my character sheet/my operating instructions, helps me refocus on things that feel a little more foundational than daily push-ups.

Once I set goals, then I can start thinking about what tasks I need to set myself to achieve them.  And here are some tools I find helpful for that kind of thing:

  • Freemind – Freemind is free software for making diagrams.  It makes it a lot easier for me to go from a big goal to subgoals and finally down to tasks I can schedule.  Having to write things out makes it easier to see how big a project actually is, so you allot time accordingly.  (This is how I realized I needed to change Halloween costumes this year).
  • Remember the Milk – Once you’re up to breaking down a project into specific tasks, I find RTM really helpful for assigning tasks to specific days.  That way, I can be organized (or at least a little more organized) about how much I’m taking on.  Plus, I can set tripwires to go off way in the future, so I got pinged last week to schedule a Twelfth Night party, because I set the reminder in October when I thought of it.  Otherwise I end up trying to remember too many goals/tasks day to day.
  • Beeminder – For some, more quantifiable goals, Beeminder is really useful.  Beeminder makes it easy to graph progress (how many pushups have you done?) or set caps on activities (how late am I going to bed?).  Your mileage may vary, but graphs make progress feel so concrete and delightful that I get motivated to do extra push-ups, so I can up the slope.

This has been more methods-oriented than personal, and that’s not by accident.  Love you guys, but plenty of my goals are more personal than blogworthy.  But there is one bad habit I’d like to break, and I probably need the help of IRL friends as enforcement mechanism.

I am terrible at accepting thanks from people.

My default response when casually thanked for something (holding an elevator, picking up a dropped book) is “No worries!”  Which I might not have worried about, except, when a friend thanked me for coming to his concert and I quickly moved to deflect, “Don’t be silly, it’s a pleasure for me to hear you sing” etc, he said, “I know you don’t let people thank you, but thank you anyway.”

And, observing my reactions, my friend seems to be right.  I usually deflect thanks or compliments (“You have a lovely voice” “Actually, I can’t hold close harmonies” etc).  Part of the problem, is I feel like a cheat if someone is praising me for adequacy.  I also hate being in debt to anyone, so I assume people feel uncomfortable when they thank me, and it’s simpler to remove the need for thanks.

But what I’m actually doing is stomping all over their moment of taking pleasure in something and expressing gratitude.  The trouble is, this is a hard habit to beemind away, so, if you know me in real life, and you catch me out doing this (even at the “No worries!” level), can you please give me a sharp ding about the ear?  This way I can be a little better on Humility and Graciousness attributes on my 2014 character sheet, even if I may have to add “slightly bruised” to the appearance write-up.

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  • Thank you for this wonderful post!!

  • Leah, you might give FreePlane a try. It’s by mostly the same people as Freemind, and the file format is compatible, but it has a more polished interface.

  • Lukas

    This post is mostly about deciding which goals to take on. Once you have clear and measurable goals. I suggest using to increase the odds that you’ll follow through with them – I’ve used it quite a bit – it helped me quit smoking (which, as I’m sure you know, is a notoriously difficult resolution for many people).

  • Arizona Mike

    I have the same problem. My grandma suggested a good response to being thanked was, “You’re very welcome! And thank you for your kindness!” The person who receives that “thank you” will be one satisfied customer in the interrelationship business, and even more likely to thank the next person who comes along.

  • TKDB

    I have the same problem with accepting thanks and compliments, and I never even really thought of it as a problem until reading this. Mainly I think it’s that anything other than downplaying it or brushing it aside just feels like arrogance to me. Like it’s a failure of humility to openly acknowledge that the praise is deserved and justified.

    Also, is it weird that my first thought upon starting to read this post was to be envious of the stats on that character sheet picture at the top? I mean, those are some *really* amazing stats.

    • Aaron S.

      ^ This.

      Part of it is for me that when people thank me for doing things that are completely automatic for me…like holding open a door, helping carry heavy things, etc…it seems wrong somehow to accept thanks for an action performed at the subconscious level. Like thanking a dog for digging holes.

      To go a level deeper, there’s an inherent disassociation between actions of the body, which are the autonomic actions that seem lesser than the actions of the mind. One seems like a free choice which it is right to praise, and the other seems like an involuntary twitch which should largely be ignored.

      I also react badly when I get != praise for an automatic action, because it makes me feel angry that someone could resent an automatic action. I don’t kick my dogs for digging holes.

      It’s all fairly silly, but it’s an interesting heuristic that I never thought about until now. So, thank you Leah!

      • deiseach

        Not everybody holds doors open. I generally say “Thank you” in such situations because (a) we were all reared to have some kind of manners and (b) it acknowledges the person as a person, interacting with another person.

        So even if you are doing it on automatic, the other person wants to demonstrate that they’re not just taking it for granted or ignoring you.

        • Aaron S.

          Oh, absolutely. I know that consciously, when my focus shifts to thinking about it. I mean, I thank people for doing the same. It’s just a weird cognitive bias.

    • “Like it’s a failure of humility to openly acknowledge that the praise is deserved and justified.”

      I spent a lot of time in that mode, until a friend got on me about deflecting praise and reflexive “I’m sorry”s and in the course of the discussion, it became clear that the auto-pilot humility was not REAL humbleness, but a form of pride. Like, “I’M not one of THOSE arrogant people who NEEDS anyone else’s affirmations.” Or, thinking that by taking credit for being awesome at something, I somehow held the power to MAKE someone else feel bad for not being as awesome at that one thing (which ought to make it apparent that I wasn’t giving near enough credit to the things they were awesome at and I wasn’t).

      I was suprised when I started making the shift (being humble about things I was actually humble about, and letting a little pride show for things I was proud of) that people weren’t at all turned off by it. Because the less time I spent deflecting praise the more I was able to give or share it. Imagine complimenting a roommate after a big musical performance. Would you rather hear “Nah, it wasn’t that good, I was off tempo at XYZ” (which IMPLIES a very prideful sense that the entire performance should have been robotically perfect). OR “Thanks! I really appriciate you being cool with all the practicing I had to do at home.” (You can’t humbly acknowledge another person’s role in your success, unless you acknowledge success.)

      • Kristen,

        Have you read Lewis’ essay “The Inner Ring”? Not as much fun as Screwtape, but some interesting insights on arrogance/humility in the context of social groups.

        Full disclosure: I’m an atheist and a Lewis fan.

        Dave Miller in Sacramento

    • Liam

      My go to reply is “It’s been a privilege.” It’s true, sincere (or should be), it matches grave situations with sincerity, and less grave situations with good humor. It is broad enough for general gratitude, such as “Thank you for all your service,” and works well with specific thanks, such as “Thanks for returning our clan’s ancient ninja scrolls.”

  • I found a similar method of thinking about the future. When people spoke to me of “Goals” I would think, “But how do I know where I’ll be in ten years?!” On the flipside, when someone mentioned the idea of writing a letter to my future self, that really clicked. I could express to future-me present-me’s hopes for him, what he will have accomplished and realized in the intervening time. It was really helpful, and I should remember to use it more often.

  • deiseach

    To quote C.S. Lewis on Humility, from “The Screwtape Letters”, No. XIV:

    “You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible. To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents — or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love — a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.”

  • Aaron

    In Heinlein’s Friday, “Please”, “Thank You” and “I’m Sorry” are identified as the grease which lets the machine of civilization run; and the decline in their use is the mark of a society in decline.

  • Adiutricem

    For mind-mapping try Scapple which integrates with Scrivener It is more of a free-form text editor than a true mind map, for those of us who do not have orderly minds it works pretty well. If you don’t use Scrivener for writing, try it out. It works great!

  • RED

    I’m interested in learning ASL as well. Do you have any good internet resources for this?

    Also, this is a REALLY awesome way of thinking about resolutions.

    • leahlibresco is a helpful place to start, but eventually, you’ll need an IRL or skype teacher.

  • If you want XP, leveling up, and the like – check out HabitRPG (

    • Actually, seriously – given this article I think Habit would be right up your ally.