Fail Better

By Megan Willome

What are you doing New Year’s?

Hi, my name is Megan, and I’m an addict, a Diet Coke addict. I started on the hard stuff, that habit-forming fizzy slosh of carbonated chemicals, when I was in high school. By the time I got to college, I was drinking 12 a day — sometimes more. Like any addict, I couldn’t quit.

On many a New Year’s Day, I resolved to give up Diet Coke. Then I’d give it up again for Lent.

My yearly promise and failure to give up something so obviously unhealthy soured me on the whole idea of resolutions.

I thought I was alone in my antipathy toward resolution-making until I discovered I am part of a statistic — 38 percent of Americans “absolutely never make New Year’s resolutions.” That number comes from the “Journal of Clinical Psychology,” published by the University of Scranton. Yes, Scranton, Pennsylvania, fictional setting of the beloved, departed TV series, “The Office.” If this research comes from the home of Michael Scott, then I know it’s trustworthy.
This same journal tracked the top 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2015. At the top of the list — no surprise — was “lose weight.” Coming in at No. 3 was “spend less, save more.” But No. 8 surprised me: “Help others in their dreams.” Perhaps I was so preoccupied with my own inability to fulfill the dream of kicking the Diet Coke habit that I couldn’t even think about helping others.

I’ve never liked the idea that New Year’s resolutions are supposed to result in permanent personality change. On a random day at the end of the stressful holiday season, I’m supposed to resolve that from henceforth and forevermore I shall become a better person. I’ll finally “get organized” (No. 2) or “stay fit and healthy” (No. 5).

Whoa, there, partner! The designers of Lent had a better idea — six weeks, with Sundays off. The season of penitence is supposed to be more than a second chance at New Year’s resolutions, and sometimes it is. Other times I’ve decided, after six weeks of going without, that I actually do need a little dark chocolate every day to behave like a decent human being.

Despite the journal’s statistics that “people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions,” I find that resolving to “enjoy live to the fullest” (No. 4) doesn’t make it so. At least, not for me. If I’m going to change, it will be out of sheer desperation. I only change because I have to.

I didn’t become more assertive in 2006 because I thought it was a good idea. I did it because my son’s knee injury was getting progressively worse, and the doctors wouldn’t listen until I went Mama Bear on them. If I had made a resolution in 2013 to “take up yoga,” I never would have followed through. I did it because the gym’s pool was closed for major repairs. And I didn’t cut back on Diet Coke until it started to hurt my stomach. I still didn’t give it up until 2014, when I learned to do what I call “fail better.”

That Lent I made two goals: I resolved to not keep the beverage in the house, meaning I had to go out of my way to buy it; and then, knowing I would fail, I resolved that at least I would fail better. If I stayed diet soda-free for one day, I patted myself on the back. My longest streak was four days. And each time I failed, I simply started over the next day. That might not fall under No. 6, “learn something exciting,” but I did learn something useful about myself.

I learned that I drank Diet Coke to avoid eating. Fake sugar and caffeine satisfied a craving that could be addressed in healthier ways. So instead popping open a can of Diet Coke, I learned to eat a snack. Was I sleepy in the midafternoon? Maybe I needed to brew a pot of tea. Lent ended, and without my noticing when it happened, the craving quietly slipped away.

The brilliance of this method was that I became accustomed to going without, while simultaneously discovering new coping mechanisms.

Since then “fail better” has been my mantra. I’m more gentle with myself about a lot of things.

Now the only time I drink a diet soda — Diet Dr Pepper (I can no longer stand Diet Coke) — is at a Baylor game, sometimes. That’s not falling off the wagon. That’s school pride.

I don’t yet know what I’m doing New Year’s Eve, but I know I won’t toast 2016 with a can of Diet Coke, as I did in years past. If I have a glass of bubbly, it will be champagne.