It’s time for New Year’s resolutions, America’s annual exercise in self-loathing that starts with that magical picture in your mind of just how wonderful things will be when you’re 20 pounds lighter or $5,000 richer. If you can just get your lazy, screw-up self to lay off the pizza or pay off the Visa bill this year — even if you have to punish yourself and make every meal out of bean sprouts, used tea bags and handout government cheese — you’ll be good.
And that’s why you’re destined to fail.
Failed resolutions start with the assumption that you are screwed-up loser slob who has to fix yourself. And when your resolutions involve money, far too many people internalize the words of the French dramatist Jean Giraudoux. “To have money is to be virtuous, honest, beautiful and witty,” he wrote. “And to be without it is to be ugly, boring, stupid and useless.”
To which American filmmaker Cathryn Michon says: Wrong!
Don’t be your own bully
The key to change, Michon says, is to love yourself now — not at some point 10 pounds or $2,000 into the future.
“The biggest bully in your life is yourself — and that has to stop,” Michon says. “The minute you stop shaming yourself about whatever your issue is — whether it’s over-eating or over-spending — that’s when you change.”
Michon dramatizes her own story of personal acceptance about her appearance and weight in her new comedy, “Muffin Top: A Love Story,” now playing in select cities and available on demand (for info visit www.muffintopmovie.com). It’s a comedy about a woman who gains weight undergoing in vitro fertilization, only to find her husband leaves her for someone younger — and skinnier. In the aftermath, she learns to accept herself, including one hilarious episode involving the lessons of liposuction, lip augmentation and butt fat.
The problem, Michon found, is that in focusing on how inadequate you are now — and how you can only be happy with yourself when you lose weight, save more or hit any other goal — makes you ashamed of yourself now. Those feelings of inadequacy or perfectionism or disgrace and self-disgust then make you feel undeserving of the success you want and ultimately cause you to give up or sabotage your attempts to improve things.
“The road to health — mental, psychological and financial — really does start with getting out of the whole shame thing,” she says.
Always easier to say no
The irony is that in wanting to be debt-free, or wanting to put more money in the bank or wanting to fit into a size 6 dress can actually poison our attempts to improve our situations if we think we’re big broke losers until we hit that goal. Those feelings make it too easy to get discouraged or focus on temporary sacrifices, so we pick up a cupcake or blow $100 because, what’s it matter, anyway? A loser like me is never going to get what I want.
Which means that instead of telling yourself, “I’ll be a good person when I save more money” you have to start with the idea that you already ARE a good person, and that you owe it to yourself to save more money.
“It’s always easier to say no or that something’s not good enough, because to be positive is the biggest risk,” Michon says. “That’s why it feels weird and people hesitate to do it. You have to challenge yourself to be brave enough to say, ‘I’m financially wise and I make good choices’ or ‘I’m healthy and I make healthy food choices.’ It really is about saying the positive thing.”
The question to ask yourself is: What do you think you deserve? If you feel bad about yourself, then you’ll say you deserve this cheeseburger or that expensive cruise to make you feel better — even though it makes your problem worse. But if you feel that you’re already worthy of your goal, it’ll be much easier to order the salad or plan an affordable staycation.
Either way, you’re going to get what you deserve, so why not be positive?
And if you still think you can’t get something you don't deserve, consider this: a new Congress was just seated in Washington, and we don’t deserve that, either.
Brian O’Connor is author of the award-winning book, “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese.”