Jan 02

“Bridget Jones” and New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are the cornerstone of both the 1996 novel Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding and its screenplay adaptation of 2001. Bridget Jones (played by Renee Zellweger in the film) starts off her year with good intentions toward making significant life changes–and a diary to keep track of it all.

The bestselling book by Fielding was based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the author has acknowledged. Primed by the novel, many flocked to see the movie when it came out several years later.

Stephen Holden (New York Times) describes the film’s lead: “Bridget Jones, in case you didn’t know, is a 32-year-old bachelorette who works in a London publishing house and frets with sad amusement about her increasingly iffy prospects for finding a long-term relationship. Summoning up her shaky willpower, she decides to adopt the usual self-improvement regimen to make herself more desirable. She will lose 20 pounds, cut down on alcohol, cigarettes and sweets, and land the boat of her dreams. Her diary entries are prefaced with meticulous records of her progress (and lack thereof) in achieving her stringent numerical goals.”

One of Bridget’s best features? States Holden: “…(E)ven when downhearted, she maintains a rueful sense of humor.”

(Incidentally, when my screenplay Minding Therapy won the Hollywood Script award in 2009, they called it “hip and relevant, with a Bridget Jones’s Diary kind of flavor.”)

Below is the film’s trailer:

In the end, although Bridget feels compelled to admit that she hasn’t made the changes she’d wanted and that her diary is “foolish,” there is a significant measure of progress–albeit against her own inclinations–in one specific area. She’s managed to stumble into a decent relationship.

And it’s this special man, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), who says the key words to Bridget that might make all those earnest resolutions seem not so important after all: “…I like you very much. Just as you are.”

How does the film feel today, over 20 years later? As would be expected, there’s some obvious datedness. One notable dynamic that Bridget encounters at work with her boss (Hugh Grant), for instance, would now be a #MeToo problem, Rebecca Nicholson (The Guardian) points out.

Other issues of note are the fat phobia that pervades as well as what we could call singlehood phobia. But even if we’re somewhat smarter about these issues decades later, don’t they remain relevant? Don’t women in today’s world still appreciate Bridget’s struggles?

Indeed, at the 20-year anniversary of the film, Jenny Singer, Glamour, concluded it’s “perfect, just the way it is.”

Jan 02

New Year’s Resolutions? Or Just Set New Goals?

New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, goes the saying. Or was that rules are made to be broken? Well, whatever. The thing is, those things—things like that—usually do get broken. I’d quote some grim statistics on this, but I don’t really believe in those either.

Some of the most popular yearly New Year’s resolutions include drinking less or not at all, eating better and/or losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, improving one’s job options, managing stress, making more money, and having more fun.

Issues regarding drinking, eating and exercise, weight loss, stress, smoking, etc….all familiar stuff to therapists and clients.

But if more thought doesn’t go into a resolution than just saying it, it’s just a wish, isn’t it—versus a real outcome that’s likely to happen. For example, you want to cut down your drinking? That’s a resolution. And…so…? Well, good luck with that.

Some things to actually consider: How much will you cut down? By when? Have you done this before? If so, how’d you do? Do you have people you can tell your resolution to and/or report to? Will they be supportive? How can you make the journey an enjoyable choice versus a self-assigned punishment?

Goal-setting can help change that too-broad-based resolution thingie into something more attainable. How to do this? As coined in the early 1980’s, make it SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

New York Times article by Tim Herrera offers Jen A. Miller‘s suggestions about how to do this. Excerpts follow:

  • Specific. “Your resolution should be absolutely clear…”
  • Measurable. And, “Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behaviors can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution may be.”
  • Achievable. “This doesn’t mean that you can’t have big stretch goals. But trying to take too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated, or affect other areas of your life to the point that your resolution takes over your life — and both you and your friends and family flail…”
  • Relevant. “Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons?”
  • Time-bound. “Like ‘achievable,’ the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too.”
Jan 04

“The Procrastination Equation” By Piers Steel

In short, as Norcross wrote, “Successful resolvers were also found to report employing significantly more behavioral strategies and less self-blame and wishful thinking than unsuccessful resolvers.” Piers Steel, The Procrastination Equation

Resolutions are made to be broken, they say. What do we give up on? According to Goskills.com, the most common annual resolutions are the following:

  1. Exercise more
  2. Lose weight
  3. Get organized
  4. Learn a new skill or hobby
  5. Live life to the fullest
  6. Save more money / spend less money
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Spend more time with family and friends
  9. Travel more
  10. Read more

Although this year 8 and 9 may be out of reach for most of us due to COVID-19, the others will still pertain.

What’s one of the main reasons we give up, though? It’s procrastination. Oh, we meant well. We just weren’t ready for the follow-through. Which could also be why this year we had the same old resolutions as last year and the year before and….

Psychologist Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation (2010), knows a thing or two about putting things off—he apparently began early in life. But he got over it, and now he’s extensively studied the subject and has expertise of a different kind.

What do reviewers think of Steel’s book? A couple examples:

Kirkus Reviews: “Everything you ever wanted to know about procrastination but never got around to reading.”

David Pitt, Booklist: “A useful, eye-opening book. Now, if only the people who most need to read it could find the time to do so.”

They jest, of course.

What is procrastination, as defined by Steel? Irrational delay.

So, as Steel says right there in the title of the book, he has an equation, which, according to Kirkus Reviews, is Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay = Motivation. “Simply put, the equation means that the motivation to perform a particular task declines when the expectancy or value of a task’s reward declines or when there is an increase in impulsivity or in the delay of the task’s reward.”

Or not so simply put. More simply is something like, we’re not as committed as we’d like to be, it feels hard, we want what we want now, and besides, other stuff gets in the way. (If my paraphrasing is lacking, my apologies to Steel.)

Steel believes about 95 percent of us procrastinate, though not as many do it chronically—maybe 25 percent fall into this category.

Want to take the procrastination survey developed by Steel? Go to his site, procrastinus.com. (Go right now if you really want to do get it done.) (Well, finish reading this first.) (One of our problems? Too many distractions.)

Procrastination is actually a brain thing, having to do with the limbic system overruling the prefrontal cortex. Evolution has played a part, and in today’s world, computers and TV are two of the main things that distract us a lot from the tasks at hand and thus contribute to procrastination in a big way.

For future reference, Steel reports (Psychology Today) that making a New Year’s resolution does help toward achieving wanted change. In other words, at least it’s more effective than not resolving.

What works best, then, toward keeping those resolutions next time around?

What turns out to be the most useful is a combination of ‘inside/outside’ strategies. Use your willpower, your sense of agency and choice. Focus on how this is your life and you choose how to live it. However, don’t rely on willpower exclusively; you need to change your environment as well. Try to engineer a world for yourself where you rely on your willpower as little as possible by keeping temptation at a distance and keeping reminders of why you should not give in.