01 Jan I resolve to stop being an umpa lumpa
Each new year my resolutions are another opportunity to test the scientific method. This is the hypothesis they prove again and again: That hope triumphs over experience.
As the weeks of the fresh year unfold, and the promise and determination behind the initial burst of willpower flags (early February in a good year) I switch to making resolutions at the new moon. The yogis suggest we begin things at the new moon, and by March I’ve rediscovered that a year is too ambitious for me, so I shorten my event horizon to a month, new moon to new moon.
Unrealistic Multiple Project Ambitions Leading to Unrealistic Multiple Project Anxiety
This new year I have given up on new year’s resolutions altogether. They’re like chips, I just can’t stop at one. And the result is that I become an umpa lumpa – with apologies to Roald Dahl. I have suffered umpa lumpa syndrome most of my life – Unrealistic Multiple Project Ambitions Leading to Unrealistic Multiple Project Anxiety.
The problem is there’s so much I want to do in whatever time I have left. And so much I could be doing better. I should be writing more and procrastinating less. Spending more time on my yoga mat and less on my butt. Being less judgmental and more mindful. Visiting elderly relatives. Taking up green juice and giving up coffee. Learning to love kale. Volunteering, reading more books, learning a language like I always said I would . . .
Writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant reminded me of a Warren Buffet anecdote warning against having too many goals. Buffet’s recipe for achievement (so the story goes) is to write 25 goals, choose the top five and ditch the rest. Totally avoid the rest, they cannot exist in your life until you’ve achieved your top five. I have no trouble getting to 25, which is why I have Unrealistic Multiple Project Ambition – did I mention painting with watercolours, canoeing, poetry – both writing and reading it, learning ashtanga yoga, bushwalking, joining a choir, tap dancing? – I run into trouble when it comes to narrowing the focus to my top five. This is why I suffer Unrealistic Multiple Project Anxiety.
Ignore the over-achievers
It’s disheartening and too easy to find stories, images, podcasts, blogs about those tedious over-achievers who seem to manage it all. I expect they have a secret weapon – like unlimited funds or live-in help (a dedicated wife, for example.) Or they have the capacity to operate on three hours of sleep a night. Or they’re faking it. For the rest of us ordinary slobs who get weary, distracted and lazy, the minutes and hours and days are too short to embrace all the things we’d like to do . . . one day.
But ambitions, especially if they’re more like random desires, don’t make us happy. They have that in common with money. And as the mystics and wise souls from many traditions tell us, happiness isn’t something you can get out there. Goals to make you better, smarter, thinner or richer might make you better, smarter, thinner or richer, but they won’t necessarily shift the needle on your happiness dial one millimetre. Kriyananda – my first true yoga teacher – once said: “They have a saying in France: it’s nice to be beautiful, healthy and rich – but if you’re ugly, sick and poor, there’s no point in being unhappy as well.” Exactly.
Henry James said it best in The Ambassadors: “Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that what have you had?” It doesn’t so much matter what you do, but do something – other than making lists about what you’d like to do. Keep it simple, and ditch the list.
I’m done with the umpa lumpa thing. I’m done with new year’s resolutions and longs lists of goals. I’m going to choose to be happy right where I am. Even if I only have one language, no canoe and a persistent coffee habit. On low days I’m going to grab that ukulele I got for Christmas (did I mention learning to play the ukulele?) and play my favourite song by David Choi from the film Lucky. All year I’ll return to this in the key of G: I choose happiness.
And I wish you happiness also, all year long.