On Making Strides in 2016

New Year’s resolutions feel like an empty promise; bullets on a list laid out in an attempt to stave off your inevitable slide from the person you want to be to the person you actually are. I’ve resolved to quit smoking more times than I can count. I’ve written countless lists of promises that I intend very much on keeping, tucked them into fresh new planners and inside my wallet, between my customer loyalty card for my nail salon and my MetroCard. I look at them every day for the first month of the new year, but by February, they’re gone, used for blotting lipstick or holding chewed gum.

Resolving to be a better — or different — person with every year that passes pleasantly scratches the itch of self-improvement that we all have. It’s empowering to feel like you can snatch your life from the path it’s on and guide it towards a more advantageous conclusion. So much of life is a power struggle, recognizing daily the amount of control you can realistically exert while submitting yourself to the bigger things that you can’t change.

There’s really no better time for self improvement. Starting anew in the cold months when your body is bloated and sluggish from holiday parties and sloth feels right. We use the days when the sun sets early to hibernate and to re-emerge in the summer months, newly improved, shiny, taut, full of the realized potential we stored away like squirrels hoarding nuts. The impetus to be a better person is always there; like clockwork, the sleeping beast awakens every New Year’s Day as you stumble out of bed and stand at the sink in your underwear, drinking a glass of cold water very slowly.

I haven’t made a resolution in a long time, because the idea of making myself a “better” person feels like there’s something inherently wrong with me, the way I am. This year, I’ve learned that there’s always room for improvement, no matter how small. People can change, though it’s not easy and it’s certainly not fun.

My best self for 2016 looks a lot like the person I am now, just slightly different. Anxiety about money pervades my every activity, like din that you can’t quite find the source of. I will finally learn that it is not entirely necessary to check my bank account after every purchase. Next year’s version of me will be less anxious, somehow, about money. Next year will be the year I finally understand that, as long as I have a job and all of my teeth, the money I acquire should be spent on things that matter. I will think cautiously and carefully about things that I am cavalier about, like the state of my 401(k). I will stop letting voicemails from my student loan collector accumulate and actually pick up the phone when they call. I will not yell at the person on the other line. I will pay them on time.

There are things that I spend money on that do not matter, a Bandaid slapped on a wound that probably needs stitches. Finding a therapist instead of dumping a day’s worth of vitriol and complaint in a blinking Gchat is worth the money. Grocery shopping instead of eating a white slice and a pepperoni from the pizza place across the street is worth the money. Conquering my fear of the gym and its attendant sweat, discomfort and grunting, is worth the money. Taking one small vacation, alone and somewhere warm, not too expensive, with a very good book, is worth the money.

I will make strides in my career that are less like the panicked moves of a cornered animal and more like that of someone who actually thinks before they do. I will find a way to do work that I like 75% of the time. I will look into dry-cleaning my sweaters. I’ll save money, but spend what I have with a little more thought.

This article is part of The Billfold’s 2015 end-of-year series, “Our Best Selves in the Coming Year.”

Megan Reynolds is an associate editor at The Frisky. She lives in New York.

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