Mental hygiene
Cleaning up bad habits in the new year

Mental hygiene
Zach Hively - 01/25/2024

Listen up, especially if you have already fallen behind on, or off of, or under your New Year’s resolutions: It turns out that, in my own personal estimation, the concept of a New Year’s resolution is a stupid one that we should all feel free to ignore.

I mean, who is society to tell us that we need to become better people, anyway? The whole New Year holiday is probably just a product of Big Resolution, or the patriarchy, or Hallmark, or some other cabal that wants us to feel, generally, like doo doo. New Year’s resolutions require me – and probably you, but let’s stay focused here – to imagine I will wake up on a specific date with a drive, efficiency, rigor and timeliness heretofore unrealized in a lifetime of Januarys. Resolutions make as much sense as believing I will stop texting at red lights just as soon as my odometer turns over. But for real this time.

That said, I have decided this year not to be a better person, certainly, but to be a person better at time management. We’re already several weeks in, and I’m very nearly ready to get started.

And I am going to start with brushing my teeth.

Which, let’s be clear, I already do! – because I hate lying to my dental hygienist about more than just the flossing. But I have resolved to become better at managing my time while polishing up my pearlies.

Here’s what happens when I’m brushing my teeth: I don’t know what happens. I think I am getting to bed at a decent hour, sometimes defined as “still nighttime.” All that’s left to do is brush my teeth, which I have somewhere in my head should take three to five minutes. I load up those bristles with paste and get to it, with all my focus and presence to ensure each tooth gets a fair shake.

I finish. I spit. I rinse. And I see that 20, 30, sometimes even more than 50 minutes have passed, and these I cannot account for.

This experience, not unlike intergalactic wormhole traveling, overwhelms me with ominous questions regarding the truths of time and space. Such as: if I brush my teeth for half an hour each night, do I still need to brush them in the morning, or have I met my daily aggregate quota? And: should I set a timer for myself to keep on track, or would I just brush right through it, much like I snooze through my A.M. alarms because I’m so tired from brushing my teeth all night long?

These are the great unanswerables. And, like the Carpenters, we have only just begun.

Because, in much the same way I have lost years of my life to long-form dental care, my entire morning typically passes by unaccounted for. Some nice public servant, like the woman at the post office or my therapist, can ask me how my day has been. “Good,” I will say. “I got up with my fourth alarm, made breakfast, put on clean pants, and here I am.”

To which they always say, “It’s three o’clock.”

They’re right. Many hours pass between getting up and leaving the house – and I cannot account for most of their whereabouts. But the hours FEEL full. I do not experience the wasting of time. Nor do I experience coffee taking 45 minutes to make, or breakfast two hours, or running out of time to put on clean pants so I lie about that part to save face.

The truth is out there. To find it, I think I need to make the mystery less personal. It’s not about how I, me, Zach, suck at time management, or executive functioning, or baseline life necessities. No, no! There is a cause here, a scientific one possibly, that I can puzzle out if I just become a dispassionate self-observer. Like a zoologist. 

Jane Goodall is, unfortunately, both expensive and also unavailable to mentor me. So I have contemplated buying a nanny cam to record my mornings and chronicle what, exactly, I am doing around here. Do I stare at walls in a fugue state? Do I have a second identity living inside me who timeshares this body? Have I simply lived my life so far under extreme misconceptions of time and how much of it I really have?

This attitude makes me believe I have better things to do than order that nanny cam, and not only because I am too close to deadline for it to arrive before then. After all, there is a life to be lived, with whatever time I’ve got! Plus, if I record my entire morning, then I will spend my entire afternoon reviewing the nanny cam. And if my usual relationship with time continues its current pattern, it will take up my entire evening, too. And then I REALLY won’t have time to floss.

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