Monica Sheppard mug 2018

Monica Sheppard

Am I dating myself if I say that I grew up dog-earing the heck out of the Sears Wish Book catalog at Christmastime? I can remember lying on my stomach in the living room floor, turning each page of the toy section, carefully discerning which plastic amalgamation would best fulfill my greatest needs and desires. My younger sister had her own dreams and wishes so I assume we wrote our name or initials to mark the territory of our choosing. Mind you, we didn’t just dog-ear the pages, we folded over half the page in a triangle to make the point stick out on top so there would be no chance of missing the notation. Would you call that Doberman-earing, perhaps? Imagine an ear much more noticeable than your average dog’s ear. I know that Mom and Dad appreciated our diligence.

As I think about this childhood tradition, I wish we still had those catalogs that catalogued what silly things were important to us when we were young. I am not old enough for them to have ended up in the outhouse, but Dad probably used the pages to start many a fire in the wood-burning stove in the basement den, kindling heat so intense that you could stand at the top of the stairs and feel it move your hair as it wafted upward. Seems an appropriate end for our hopes and dreams sent heavenward, at least North Pole-ward, for them to end up rising as smoke from the more noble purpose of warming our home.

You could say that ending up useful in the outhouse is a more noble purpose for the flashy promises of those pages, too, but I can’t help but have it remind me of that old saying, “You can wish in one hand and ______ in the other and see which one fills up faster.” I will leave it to you how you fill in the blank, but suffice it to say it is scatological in theme. An old friend used to quote his Irish mother’s use of the phrase to shoot down his hopes and dreams from her acerbic, hard-scrap view of the world. Nothing in life had come easy to her, so why should things be different for her children or anyone else? Her wish book pages were outhouse fodder, for sure, so wishes were about as valuable to her as the stuff they mingled with, and decidedly less substantial.

Sorry to turn your holiday thoughts to less pleasant considerations here on this day after Christmas, but now that the gifts have been opened and we are headed to the new horizon of 2019, isn’t it time to get back to reality? Shouldn’t we turn our thoughts to the practical consideration of our plans for the future rather than those past wishes for magical receipts from characters like the jovial and benevolent man in red?

The old nursery rhyme said, “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride,” and I have to wonder if any truer thing has ever been said. There are numerous variations you’ve likely heard, “If wishes were fishes, then beggars would eat,” as well as some I could come up with, “If wishes were winning tickets, then beggars would be rich.” No matter how you say it, the ultimate point is that if wishes had value, your problems would be solved but, of course, they don’t.

So, let’s talk about our goals and how we plan to achieve them in 2019. Unlike wishes, goals involve making plans for the efforts we will put towards achieving them. You don’t say, “I want to lose 10 pounds in the New Year” and assume that a magic fairy will come to sweep the pounds away while you keep eating Christmas cookies. At least I hope you don’t, ’cause that isn’t going to happen. You are more likely thinking about the great habits you will pick up come Jan. 1 such as exercise, healthy eating, drinking more water, etc., that will help you lose those pounds of your own accord. Of course, most of us have fallen into such bad habits by this stage of the holiday game (how much egg nog did you drink while lying on the couch for how many hours?) that we have a nearly unachievable list of items to accomplish. But, if we don’t set the intention, it will never happen, right?

I’ve been fascinated by a study I read a while back that determined that sharing your goals with others makes you less likely to achieve them. Weird, huh? I’ve always thought that saying things out loud was the best way to solidify the intent. If you told your friend you were going to do it, then it seems you would be more motivated to make it happen. But, the study found that this actually works in the opposite direction. The phenomenon is best described in a Psychology Today article about the study:

“Imagine, for example, that Mary wants to become a Psychologist. She tells Herb that she wants to pursue this career and that she is going to study hard in her classes. However, just by telling Herb her intention, she knows that Herb is already starting to think of her as a Psychologist. So, she has achieved part of her identity goal just by telling Herb about it. Oddly enough, that can actually decrease the likelihood that Mary will study hard.”

I am guilty of talking about my goals as though they are wishes that will somehow magically unfold just by my mere declaration. Like dog-eared pages that eventually go up in flames or disintegrate into the earth like scat, they are not going to get anywhere fast, at that rate. Here’s to setting deliberate and intentional goals as we approach the New Year, and keeping them to ourselves.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.