In my mother’s family, “top on the toothpaste” was a catch phrase for New Year’s resolutions. Back when toothpaste actually had a screw top. It was short for the reforms, behavior changes, and good intentions that comprise many New Year’s resolutions, back-on-track self-improvement that we hope would stick this time instead of the extra pounds.
About 45 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, and 46 percent of those still maintain the resolution after six month. Typical top resolutions include: lose weight, get organized, spend less, enjoy life, stay/get fit and healthy, quit smoking, help others. The older we get, the harder it is to stick with it. Twenty-somethings have a success rate three times greater than over-the-hills. People who make explicit resolutions are 10 times more likely to succeed than those who don’t.
Psychologists and self-health magazines urge us to make change incrementally. It takes 21 days, they say, to get in the habit of a good habit. Bad habits, I say, are instant. Instead of doing all the changes at once which is a likely formula for failure, add on to something you are already doing. For example, use a smaller dinner plate to eat less. After the smaller dinner plate is routine, then add the green veggie as a regular feature. Before you know it, eating smaller portions and more veggies is normal.
Some New Year’s resolutions start small, but turn out to be Big. My most memorable New Year’s resolution was simple, easy to implement, and timely, all indicators of resolution success. In 1979, in Boston on New Year’s Eve, I declared I would volunteer for a presidential candidate in the 1980 campaign. That night I found a one dollar bill on the floor of the bus. Yes, it was a good omen.
By New Year’s Eve 1980, I had volunteered for the John Anderson for President Campaign (he went all the way to the general election as an independent), quit my insurance job, journeyed west to Nevada to work for his campaign, discovered mountains, wide open spaces and welcoming people, and a new place to call home — Carson City.
New Year’s resolutions affirm: Yes, we can do better. Personally? More veggies, more walking, more reading, more writing. In the larger world? Think globally, act locally; be kind; be grateful; be decent.
In 2016? As we ring in the New Year, an election year likely to be more raucous and polarizing than any in history, we need resolutions that speak to the best we can be. Giving in to cynicism, negativity, and fear is not who we are as Americans. Resolving to fight ignorance, apathy, racism, sexism, violence and fear is as important in this election year as staying healthy.
Top on the toothpaste. Happy New Year.
Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.