Around the new year, I sometimes set new resolutions. Or, at least, I think about the past year. I can’t resist the symbolism of the new year as a threshold. Toward what? A better year, a better self?
I’ll keep the particulars of my 2022 resolutions to myself. But three overarching thoughts arose in the process:
Know What’s Important
I recently overhauled the tasks (essentially “goals”) in my Streaks app, a to-do list and habit tracker that I’d highly recommend*. Its name reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld’s advice on making habits stick: Don’t break the chain. Likewise, this app motivates me to keep the streak going.
Scrutinizing my existing goals, I found some with long chains—success!—meaning that they’re already habits. Others had broken chains—failure!—indicating repeated starts and stops, typically because the goal is either too vague or too ambitious.
Overall, health habits and work habits come easily to me. If I decide to walk/jog at the crack of dawn on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, consider it done. Workwise, I need no reminders about yoga teaching, for which I’m always prepared and attentive, or about writing or editing, for which I always deliver on time.
Much harder for me are goals without firm deadlines or obvious results: Keep in touch with faraway friends. Declutter household stuff. Do more pleasure reading. Explore current home city as if on vacation. Actually, these might be less goals than amorphous, but important, aspects of “living life.”
Resolutions typically focus on self-control and productivity—for good reason. We don’t need reminders to be lazy, do we? Well, maybe some of us do. Just as important as productivity are relationships, rest, and enjoying downtime without guilt.
I live under the illusion that I have time—tomorrow or next week, next month, next year. But, especially regarding people, tomorrow might be too late.
Two years ago, the late Ingelise Nherlan, then Vancouver’s senior-most Iyengar yoga teacher, was ill with pancreatic cancer. I didn’t know until a colleague notified the local teaching community that Ingelise was open to phone calls. I didn’t know Ingelise well enough to call her, but I planned to email her.
A couple of memories made Ingelise stand out in my mind. I first met her in the late 2000s, during an intermediate-level assessment; I was a mock student and Ingelise was among the assessors. I was new to Vancouver and, during a break, approached her to introduce myself—because one of my Berkeley teachers, Donald Moyer, had mentioned her name as a longtime colleague and friend.
Ingelise was somewhat abrupt in our exchange. But, when the assessment ended, she found me and apologized. “I was in a hurry then,” she explained before chatting with me. I appreciated her courtesy. Not all senior teachers give unknown students the time of day.
My subsequent interactions with her were sporadic, when I might take a class at her West Van studio or or see her at local events. At first I found her a bit intimidating, perhaps due to her senior status. But over time I saw her as remarkably humble—a teacher and also a true “learner.” I wrote about her in The Humility to Learn, a November 2013 blog post.
I wanted to email Ingelise and somehow acknowledge these sentiments. But, a few weeks later, she was gone. I regret my procrastination.
Among my resolutions, I must note which involve people and relationships that seem to have no time limit, but actually do.
Enjoy Every Sandwich
Once, a friend, Hannah, was showing me photos from her past. We came to a wedding shot, almost two decades old. By then she was divorced with two sons. Hannah laughed, shook her head, and said, “I was so cute.” She wasn’t flattering herself, but marveling at her youth and the way she saw herself then—from the perspective of now.
I knew what she meant. When I look at old high school photos of myself, for example, I’m taken aback to see that I look fine, even—thanks, Hannah—cute. I wasn’t hopelessly skinny or light skinned (“shark bait,” pale as a haole tourist, anathema where I grew up in Hawaii). Even my curly hair could’ve been passable had I not tried, futilely, to tame it.
Why is hindsight so clear? I would tell the teenage me to appreciate what I have—to enjoy the moment. And I should tell my present self to appreciate my present life, as my future self surely will.
Note: The photo above is inspired by late musician Warren Zevon‘s famous quote, “Enjoy every sandwich,” which came from an interview on the Late Show with David Letterman. Zevon had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and Letterman asked him, “From your perspective now, do you know something about life and death that maybe I don’t know?”
Zevon answered, “Not unless I know how much… how much you’re supposed to enjoy every sandwich.”
Image: King Omega sandwich, Harvest Deli, Vancouver, October 2021, Luci Yamamoto.
*Streaks is elegantly simple, functionally and aesthetically, and it costs only $5, a one-time fee that includes upgrades and updates. Most similar apps offer free bare-bones versions, but require “in-app purchases” for full versions.