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There are no clean slates, and you don’t need one

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If you’re already going strong on a New Year’s resolution, then good for you. Run with it. Don’t let me get in your way.

If you didn’t get around to making one, you didn’t miss anything. In fact you might have dodged a bullet. I’ve made a lot of resolutions that did work out, but none of them began on a January 1st. I figure just about any other day is a better day to make a real change.

The problem with New Years-ing your resolution is that it gives undue weight to the idea of a clean slate. It seems like January first really does reset something, and that it’s important to harness that rare chance.

But of course, it’s just another tomorrow. There are no clean slates. Past failures will still visit you in your head, from whatever year. Bad internal dialogues will still occur, and you’ll still have the same preconceptions about yourself and the kinds of outcomes you can create.

All of this stuff is real, and it doesn’t respect the Gregorian calendar. The glowing Times Square Ball doesn’t have any special powers to obliterate your weaknesses. Making a change must include confronting certain patterns and personal liabilities. You have to take them on willingly as a part of the deal — you can’t trick yourself by pretending they only exist in 2011.

So if you think you need a clean slate to make a change then you’re going to have trouble once you realize a new calendar year doesn’t really clean anything. Self-doubt will appear in 2012 too.

Most people use January 1st because it seems worthwhile to exploit whatever whiff of an advantage it seems to offer. They gravitate towards it as if they recognize that their chances aren’t so good to begin with. Admit you don’t need it, and pick a different day. Pick one that has no sentimental significance, no false help. Don’t even use a Monday.

Of course, if you’re serious about making a change, you know that it isn’t a matter of improving your chances. It’s all up to you, not the fates, so you don’t need to line up your plastic trolls and rabbit’s feet like the old ladies at bingo. You’re much better off if you don’t hang your hopes on anything you don’t plan to control. 

If you pick a day like, say, Thursday, January 12th to mark a new stage in your life, then clearly you intend to build your new beginning right where you actually stand, rather than some mythical “clean” day. If you’re serious about your resolution, you know you don’t need the phony advantage of a fresh year.

In fact, it’s worth avoiding. Too many other people are at the gym for the first time, treadmilling with an an affected kind of determination that won’t be there in February. Too many other people are teetering already, about to relapse and have a cigarette or a drink. Share your resolve with those people and it will feel like you’re all on shaky ground, doomed to fail sooner or later. February is an excellent time to buy almost-new exercise equipment off Craigslist.

Distance yourself from that whole cultural meme and its ever-fading energy. Decide you’ll make a serious effort that doesn’t need a special calendar day.

Most importantly, make it temporary. Thirty-day commitments are doable for almost anyone and they leave you with something real. Unlike lifetime commitments, you can actually get them firmly under your belt, for good, and when you’re done you’re in a truly stronger position to decide how to live. Lifetime commitments to new habits are impossible and unnecessary.


Experiment No. 12 — 30,000 words

I’ve never written on an everyday basis. I’m closing in on three years of writing for Raptitude and there has never even been a week in which I’ve written every day. It’s still something I avoid out of habit. I get quite a bit done in a short time when my deadline is looming, but I know that my best writing happens when my deadline isn’t pushing on me.

So I will learn to write every day. A thousand word quota, every day for 30 days.

Sitting down is the hardest part of writing. The second hardest part is to work through the urge to get up. My plan is to sit down early every day and get a thousand words done.

I won’t overcomplicate it like I did my last experiment. Just sit down and write, every day, and don’t get up until the quota is reached.

The experiment will begin Wednesday, January 4th. Keep track of my progress in the experiment log.


Brooklyn Bound

Another announcement. This month I’m going to be heading out to the east coast for the first time. The plan is to work through my bucket list, meet a lot of people and take a lot of photographs. My primary destination is New York City, but I’m also going to do a bit of wandering in Vermont, Boston, and Washington DC, then hit Toronto on the way home.

Dates aren’t quite set in stone but it looks like I’ll be arriving in New York January 20th, and leaving for Toronto February 11th-ish.

If you’re in one of those areas and want to meet for coffee and teach me a bit about your home city that would be excellent. Better still, if you can help me do something on The List I would be very grateful and will credit you on the site.

Happy new year.



Click here for a good song.

Photo by Barry Yanowitz

Vir January 2, 2012 at 8:26 am

Interesting experiment. Maybe I should try it too. But I have some questions – are you going to write about anything you like or is it about something that is important or personal to you ? Are you going to write about topics that are useful for this blogs?

David January 2, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Most of the writing will pertain to this blog, both as regular articles and some future projects TBA.

Tiva Joy January 2, 2012 at 10:15 am

I find this experiment very interesting.
I knew this lady once, who was telling me about an elderly lady she would often spend time with who would write in her journal every single day. She told me how interested she was in someday, possibly reading those journals.
Since hearing that story, I started to write in my journal every day… thoughts, feelings, irritations… just something to record for the day, because I am sure someone would love to read my journals after I pass away.
Someone challenged me many years ago to do the exact same thing, and commented that I will never forget doing it.
I sincerely think it’s a great idea, whether you blog about things everyday or write things down for your personal enjoyment and therapy.
I wish you luck on this experiment, David.
*Oh, great song by the way!

David January 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Writing has helped me so much, if only to make me articulate what I actually think. It’s one of the healthiest things I do.

Maria January 2, 2012 at 10:38 am

Hey if you want short term commitments, every dawn is sort of a clean slate. I get better at using that deadline every year. I will not volunteer to take you to see the lady in the harbor, but I will buy you lunch. Email if interested. It is a great time to visit because you skipped the holiday crazy. I just visited Toronto last fall, what a great town. Enjoy your trip.

David January 2, 2012 at 5:09 pm

That’s what I’m getting at here. There’s no special day that presents the perfect time to act. Every dawn. Or every moment even.

Adam Sandy January 2, 2012 at 10:57 am

1. Cool blog. I found ya with stumbleupon (http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2f1OGb/www.raptitude.com/2010/03/40-belief-shaking-remarks-from-a-ruthless-nonconformist/). 2. My 2011 New Year’s Resolution was to quit smoking cigarettes. Well, I finally quit in September of this year. Had absolutely nothing to do with my 2011 New Year’s Resolution.

David January 2, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Way to go. How does it feel?

Alex Smith January 2, 2012 at 11:55 am

This year, I had the exact same response to resolutions. Daily resolutions are what’s needed, not yearly ones.

You’re finally coming out to Boston I see! I’d be happy to help you on your way to playing guitar in a band with a (free) lesson or two.

David January 2, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Yes. Daily goals have worked for me, that I know. Longer time periods make things a bit murky.

I’ll be in touch!

Kelly January 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I’ve been reading you for a few months now and I love it! I love the energy and clarity you have. Anyway, I’m in CT and if you come through here between NYC and Boston I’d love to buy you a coffee and teach you to drive a stick! Although probably in the reverse order. Welcome to the east coast and enjoy your travels!

David January 2, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Thanks Kelly.

Sarah January 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I made a similar commitment for this year of 5,000 words/week… that gives me a little more leeway than an “every day” rule although I like your idea of doing it just as a 30 day challenge.

In in Stamford, CT, and you’re more than welcome to come to our Toastmasters meeting on any Tuesday night. We’re only a 45-minute train ride from the city although there are plenty of Toastmasters meetings the city too… I can vouch for ours being a lot of fun though.

Alternately, while not the grandest opera house in the world, there’s always the Met. It’s pretty nice… :-)

David January 2, 2012 at 7:10 pm

I wish you the best with your commitment. I suspect if I set it as a weekly goal I’d end up doing it all on the last day. I am so experienced at piling stuff up until the last minute :(

Coach Nea January 2, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Hiya David. I definitely see your point. If making a list of resolutions is just another useless habit, people may as well not waste their time. However, I think it’s great to set goals at this time if the anticipation of a new year gives you some sort of mental energy surge that makes you want to do something you’ve been putting off. People just have to remember to apply the same principles that make any other goal achievable. Good luck on your experiments!

David January 2, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Hi Nea. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for resolutions. I’m just suggesting that you can make them at any time. There’s no boat that sails January first :)

Dean January 2, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I recently started a similar words challenge (slightly less) with the help of a website called http://750words.com It was a really great way for me to start and track my progress. Also, they do some nifty word analysis to see your mood, frequently used words, and other fun stats! You seem like you like data. Even if you just copy/paste your writings into there (completely private) it’s still a really great tool!

David January 2, 2012 at 7:14 pm

That technique is from a book called the Artist’s Way and my mother has done it for years. I tried it once the way they suggest (just getting my arbitrary thoughts down) and I found I consistently became really cranky. My thoughts were usually angry for some reason. But it did change the tone of the day for the better.

David January 2, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I just crunched my itinerary and had to drop Philadelphia from the list of destinations. I had planned to visit Philly initially because I had planned it as a road trip. But I’m flying so I can’t fit it in. Next time.

EcoCatLady January 2, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Hmmm… well, I guess my first comment is that I think resolutions in general are folly. We can’t ever really change until we understand what it is that our current behavior is doing for us. I’ve made monumental changes throughout the course of my life, but none of them have been accomplished by muscling my way through them.

Secondly… you must have a great deal of… um… bravery? moxy? cold tolerance? or perhaps some other quality in order to plan a trip to New York and further north destinations in January-February! Hope you have an enjoyable time… my advice is book a hotel with a fireplace!

David January 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Heh… it’s much colder where I live. Yes I have a great deal of cold tolerance. (Cold moxy?)

Lynn January 2, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Hi David,

I’ve been reading (and enjoying) your blog for a few years now and would love to meet when you’re in Toronto.


David January 3, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Great. I’ll be in touch.

ZFarls January 3, 2012 at 1:45 am

Down for a beer/coffee in Boston! Just sitting down and getting those first words flowing is the hard part. Once you get rolling though, should be fairly easy, just gotta get it going 30 times!

David January 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I love coffee/beer!

Noch Noch January 3, 2012 at 1:49 am

yah -we can implement changes anytime we want, doesn’tnecessarily have to be Jan 1st
I actually dont believe in resolutions
i never keep them anyways and forget about them
Rather, this year, I’m more about one theme “Be Me”, the challenge to myself is just to be that. Simple enough, butcomplicated enough
Good luck on the writing – let usknow how it goes
Will need to find a rhythm myself too!
Take care
Noch Noch

David January 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Hope you have a good year of being you. Harder than it sounds :)

Philip January 3, 2012 at 6:37 am

Hey There!
I thought you were on the employment rolls doing a steady,daily 9 to 5er?
If your “employment” allows you to fulfill parts of your list, all well and good. Arising at 4:30-5:00 each morning, scratching myself behind the ear, reminding me of the dog I once had;hot,black,strong coffee to oil the creaky joints,rev up the old pump and thank God I’m still here…somewhat.
On the floor next to my home office desk,a yellow,unused, note pad silently cries out to me, “what in the hell am I doing on the floor?” According to the date posted on the first page… July 25,2011…”Random Thouhgts”, apprently went on a vacation.
Time for more coffee.
Have a fun,safe journey.

David January 3, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I am taking a leave of absence from my job. It’s slow in the winter, which works for me.

Matthew January 3, 2012 at 7:49 am

The Keys, Dude.

David January 3, 2012 at 6:35 pm

I love that disc

Trisha Rainsford January 3, 2012 at 8:09 am

The main issues most of us have are all around feelings of failure and inadequacy and these feelings cause us to avoid evaluating what has really happened. The thing is, we need our slate not to be clean but we also need the courage to look at what is scribbled on it – how, otherwise, can we learn?
Good luck

David January 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Yes, that’s it. All this talk of clean slates is nonsense because the feelings that got us behind last year are still around.

Vilx- January 3, 2012 at 10:23 am

I wonder… I remember when I had to write essays at school. There was one class dedicated explicitly for advancing out writing skills, and some others where lots of writing was simply needed for the educatoin. There were mostly set topics, though I don’t remember them now. Sometimes we also could choose freely what to write about. But what I do remember is the feeling I often got when I sat down to write. It’s like my mind absolutely emptied of all thought. I couldn’t get a sentence down for hours. The urge to get up and do something else, ANYTHING else was always there, overpowering every other though and emotion. With the exams and deadlines looming I even remember coming to tears once (and being a male I rarely cry) when people (parents, teachers, friends) tried to encourage and pressure me. I did do it all in the end (with rather mediocre results, as expected), but it wasn’t pleasant. Sometimes I have that even today, when I get some boring task at work. Much more rarely today of course, since I do a job I love, but in any job there are still the boring parts you simply have to get through. I wonder, David, how do you deal with such emotions? How do you convince yourself to work, to concentrate, to release the creativity at a task you don’t even want to think about?

David January 3, 2012 at 6:38 pm

I know what you mean. Typically I deal with those emotions by not writing. That’s the habit I plan to confront directly with this experiment. I know from experience now that I can push through them to get something down. I just need to get used to that.

nrhatch January 3, 2012 at 11:24 am

Great points, David. THIS moment is the always the first moment of the rest of our life.

My “resolution/goal/plan/intent” for 2012 is simple . . . let go of the “OLD” to make room for the “NOW.” More specifically:

* Remain awake and aware.
* Stay focused on THIS moment.
* Enjoy the journey.
* Be patient ~ allow the path to unfold.
* Be Here Now.

Enjoy your trip to NYC, Vermont, Boston, DC, and Toronto.

David January 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Thanks Nancy. Can’t think of a better set of intentions.

Tom K January 3, 2012 at 11:27 am

Never tell yourself what you’re going to do. Never talk to yourself about a decision you’ve made to do something (which is really a decision that happened to you). If you do, and the activity is engendered from an extraordinary source – comes of an extraordinary Aim – you sap and sabotage any real benefit that may accrue from such activity. It becomes merely activity that “does itself”.

David January 3, 2012 at 6:41 pm

I know what you mean, and I’ve come back to meditating recently so I can cultivate that intuitive state more often.

Maia January 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Hi David,
Funny my recent blog post is about resolutions – I agree with you why start in the New Year when you can do it any time right? Well but the thing for me is that I needed a push to do it and I was reading something in a magazine about resolutions (topical for this time of year) which gave me the prompt I needed, it’s a cliche to have New Year’s resolution, and it’s the first time I’ve had them, but it gave me clarity in what I want to achieve in the next year.
I definitely wouldn’t tell anyone about my resolutions – I’ve done that with some of them and regret it now, I don’t like people knowing about them.
There is a good good website/book Nanowrimo http://www.nanowrimo.org/ which challenges you to write a novel in month – great for any aspiring novelist. I write regularly at weekends, but I’m also trying to get into the habit of writing daily.
Have fun working on your life list!

David January 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Ah, I’ve seen people post about Nanowrimo on facebook, I wasn’t sure what it was really. It’s cool.

marc van der Linden January 4, 2012 at 1:02 am

Hi David,

Happy new year to you too. I cannot agree more with you about the clean slates. Life time promises on the first of January usually hold several weeks and make you feel bad afterwards because you did not make it … again.

It is only when I started planning SMART personal challenges for a fixed time period, I got more positive results.

Your 30000 words experiment sounds very interesting – for me it would be a very huge challenge too. I wish you success with it!

David January 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Happy new year Marc!

Cats Mousehold January 5, 2012 at 3:54 am

You’ve stated much more eloquently than I ever have been able to just why I don’t do resolutions. It boils down to, there is no time like the present to do something meaningful. I have made myself a list of 30 day experiments in my LJ. In the past, I made a goal to draw every day for a year. I made it to about 8 or 9 months and petered out. I’m going to start again, but 30 days at a time, then assess how I’m doing.

I had a look over your List. Sadly, I can’t help you with a single one of those items! I thought surely there would be one. I live near Toronto, but have a very difficult time surrounded by that much humanity. I do Toronto in very tiny bite sized pieces.

What I did notice while perusing your list was that there was a lack of creation goals, and by that I mean making something, being creative to produce something that wasn’t there before (unlike creating synaptic connections in your brain while learning a language). Was this on purpose? I could help you with learning to crochet (I taught myself a year ago), learning to draw, I could teach you how to grow a tomato plant and tend a small garden. I could teach you to create a garden that is both people and wildlife friendly, how to attract beneficial insects and keep away the bad. I could show you how to do a lost mould cuttlefish casting in sterling silver, and I’m sure there are several other things I could teach you to “make”.

I do realise that writing is an act of creation, I just noticed the sparsity of items where you ended up with something other than an experience.

David January 6, 2012 at 12:23 pm

That is a great point, and I’m am about to add some more creative-related goals, including learning to paint. I’m currently learning photography, which has been on there since the beginning. This trip is very much about stirring up the creative sensitivities again.

Cats Mousehold January 9, 2012 at 5:05 am

I could help with the painting. I do some of that too. What type of painting? Acrylic? Water colour? Oil? Guache? Finger? Your bedroom wall? Subject oriented? Nature? Abstract? I have an EOS cannon rebel and I’ve used it to take reference for drawing. I’m thinking I’d like to meet up for coffee and chat if you have time on the Toronto leg of your journey. A pinky toe’s worth of time.


David January 9, 2012 at 8:07 am

I picture oil on canvas. But mainly I want to learn the fundamentals so that I have the technical chops to paint what strikes me.

I’ll send you an email about Toronto.

Andy January 6, 2012 at 10:09 am

I’m excited you’re coming to Boston! If you’re up for it, we could grab a bite at the oldest restaurant in the U.S. They make a wicked good chowdah. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Oyster_House

The Fuddler January 8, 2012 at 10:03 am

Your advice is spot-on. New Years’ resolutions are the Hallmark cards of life decisions. Years are just a measure of time, like hours, minutes and seconds. (Though I must confess, I’m now at the age where I’m not necessarily happy that another year has passed!)

I’ve concluded that making a New Year’s resolution makes about as much sense as making resolutions when the clock strikes a certain hour (“It’s four o’clock! Break out the champagne! This hour, I resolve to…”).

It seems to me that a lot of resolutions are made by people who hate themselves for whatever it is they’ve resolved to change (a typical issue is weight loss). No decision for change will ever go anywhere until a critical first step is taken: stop hating on yourself for your failures (real or perceived). I myself don’t stick to that principle 100% of the time. That’s normal too. We all make mistakes. Don’t hate on yourself for making mistakes.

Umie November 24, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Who are you targeting? The more spcfieic you are, the easier it is to find attract your target audience.For example, let’s say you’re doing t-shirts for toddlers. Obviously, the toddlers won’t buy it themselves. But think about parents and relatives. What else do toddlers need hats? shoes? diapers? This leads to ideas for co-marketing, teaming up with another business that sells those things to your market.You’re wanting to do this online. Do you want your own website, fulfilling orders or are you looking to upload your designs to a site and allow people to order from them (along with other designs)? If you’re fulfilling orders yourself, you’ll need traffic to your website. What are people searching for? You’ll need to identify keywords that people search on, figure out how to get organic (i.e., non-paid) links. If you want to do pay-per-click traffic, that’s easy, but’ll cost you a little money. If you want to simply upload your design and wait for people to find you, then use a service like CafePress, etc.To build interest (inexpensively), you’ll need to get pictures of people wearing your designs. Create a video with your performers wearing them. Upload pictures/videos to the usal places (YouTube, etc.)Social media sites can help as well to create buzz . You’ll need pictures to have people see what’s so wonderful about your designs. Find sites that have people that are your target market, and start blogging about your designs (appropriately).That should get you started.

Hiten January 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Good post David. I think people should treat everyday as if its 1st January then we don’t need to worry about New Years Resolutions and can just continue taking action on a daily basis.

Gracie January 8, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Nice post…For me doing new years resolution is really nice for me..Thank you for sharing with us..

Benedict January 9, 2012 at 11:22 am

couldn’t agree more. It pains me to see so many people desperately trying to change their lives, all in vain. The skill of creating habits should be taught in schools – I think it would make this world a much happier place.

Carolina January 13, 2012 at 9:45 am

David, great post. I’m making 2012 a year about failure. I want to try at crossfit and writing so much that I fail and get back up again. I want to get so used to pushing my limits that the ground feels a comfortable place to land on. I’ve been incorporating 30 day changes into my routine and it’s made a difference. There are day(s) in which I still fail, but I’m a lot more conscious of my choices and what affects them (i.e., I eye the pizza bar at work or the pizza on my colleagues desk, but don’t register it as the first thing to eat and continue to walk right past it.) Enjoy new york, it’s a great city.

David January 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm

That doesn’t sound like a bad strategy. I’ve noticed the same thing with my failures — I always learn something valuable, much more than I would have if I’d not bothered, believing it’s not worth it if I don’t succeed.

Daphne Gray-Grant January 15, 2012 at 11:31 am

David, As a writing coach and a former journalist, I heartily agree with your goal of writing every day. That said, I think you may have made the specifics a bit more onerous than necessary. 1,000 words is a LOT. Know that a goal of 500 words a day would be perfectly reasonable. You also might want to check my recent column on how to achieve writing resolutions: http://www.publicationcoach.com/free-articles/2012_resolutions.php Pay particular attention to question #2, “am I starting small enough?”

David January 15, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Hah… I’m finding that out. I chose 1,000 words because it was the benchmark chosen by another blogger whose commitment I was trying out. But it really is backfiring. It ends up taking hours and has become something I want to avoid more than ever. Tomorrow I’m probably going to adjust the standard to 500 words. The point is to learn to write daily, and it’s not working. Thanks for the article and the advice Daphne, you’re totally right.

Aina January 16, 2012 at 10:03 am

Hi…This looks really interesting and I want to thank you for the great post here too…

Bling January 23, 2012 at 3:37 am

I love your post ehre David…I will make sure that my friends can read this too…

Shirah January 24, 2012 at 11:40 pm

I think my friends should know about this…Thanks for the idea…

Kate March 11, 2012 at 11:41 pm

I just want to say thank you for posting these incredible challenges, success or failure. Your entire site has inspired me to get off my butt and do something! Shortly, I will be starting week-long challenges of my own, and I just wanted to thank you for the inspiration. Good luck with your future endeavors.

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