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The Reluctant Novice : RESOLUTIONS : Get Real : Seeking the non-self-defeating route to New Year's self-improvement.

December 27, 1990|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | Times Staff Writer

There goes 1990, receding like a disabled Yugo in the Reluctant Novice's rear-view mirror.

You look back with Angst. It was a year of false starts, unrealistic ambitions and dreams deferred. What made you think that you could tell jokes like a stand-up comedian? Or kayak the Channel Islands? Or play percussion for the Ventura County Symphony? And what was that mute weekend in the Montecito monastery supposed to prove, anyway?

You are one of those People Who Do Too Much, and if anyone needs some New Year's resolutions, it's you. But--like a lot of people--you need to be more realistic about them than you have in the past. You need professional guidance.

"I'm not an expert," warns Cindy Marks, staff psychologist at the California Youth Authority's Ventura School near Camarillo. "But it's important when people make those kinds of goals that they're doable, that they're not setting themselves up for failure. You break up the large goals into small goals so that you get rewards fairly quickly. And that's what New Year's resolutions are for--for that sense of self-empowerment."

Yeah. You want empowerment. You want no more experiences like that day last spring when you arrived early for modeling school. There you were, hopes high and posture perfect, until that gaggle of would-be models half your age started critiquing your hair. Brush it, they said, or cut it or condition it or something. Who needs that?

Pennie Patterson of the Monad Center in Ventura calls herself a regressionist. She works with patients in dream analysis and past-life regressions. Like Marks, she says she isn't an expert in New Year's resolutions, but has this advice:

"I think it's an excellent time for people to look internally to where they want to be," Patterson says. "I usually suggest that they do some writing--writing down the areas of your life that are either functioning beautifully, or aren't." But, she adds, "If they're still caught in the same old pattern of doing things, it's hard to set new goals. People say, 'Gee, I want to lose 50 pounds,' but they don't change their patterns of behavior and they don't look at some of the core issues that are creating the weight gain."

Weight, several counselors agreed, is among the most common resolution topics, alongside drinking and smoking. But it's never been one of your core issues--not even on that hot-air balloon ride back in July. Up you went, light as a feather, 1,400 feet into the blue yonder. Then you spent 45 minutes marooned in the clouds, hovering above the traffic on California 23. Kitty Hawk it wasn't, and you resolved not to repeat the experience. Is that a good plan? Should you now formalize that resolution?

"Where I see people fail with New Year's resolutions," says Westlake psychologist Pamela Cramond Malkind, "is they don't put them in positive terms, they put them in really negative terms. They say, 'I'm not going to do such and such again, instead of saying, 'I am going to do such and such.' "

Oops. And then Malkind, director of the Cognita Health Psychology Group, adds more thought-provoking advice.

"One question you have to ask is, 'Who am I doing this for and is it enriching my spirit?' " She often suggests that people make their resolutions balance--for instance, one for work, one for love life, one for family life and one for other interpersonal relationships. The most self-defeating resolution-makers of all, Malkind says, are those who set their jaws with determination and announce that "I'm going to have a nice personality next year."

Now your plans for 1991 have just about formed. Never again will you be buffaloed into hunting grunion, coerced into laboring as a ranch hand or suckered into scuba diving. One last counselor, and you're ready to chart a course for the future.

"New Year's resolutions?" clinical psychologist Jack Erbeck of Ventura says. "I think they're primarily jocular and people should have fun with them. They're more entertainment than of true personal value. If somebody has a serious concern . . . I'll say in my best 'Dear Abby' tone that I hope they'll seek counseling."

But you've just spent an entire day seeking counseling, thank you very much. You want to be mature--nothing too sweeping, nothing too jarring--but you want something to show for all this introspection. With due deliberation, you take pen to paper and set down your goals for 1991.

The Reluctant Novice's Resolutions for 1991:

1. No weight loss.

2. No change in drinking habits.

3. No change in smoking habits.

4. No travel.

5. No business innovations.

6. No new relationships.

7. No self-improvement.

8. No goals.

There. Just a few more days until New Year's and you feel better already.


There are plenty of things you have never tried. Fun things, dangerous things, character-building things. The Reluctant Novice tries them for you and reports the results. After all, the Novice gets paid to do them--and has no choice in the matter. If you want to tell the Novice where to go, please call us at 658-5547. If we use your idea, we'll send you a present.

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