The something, not nothing approach to New Year’s resolutions

Janice Nigro

I just got done discussing how much I dislike New Year’s resolutions, and now here I am writing about them. Because if you’re like me, New Year’s resolutions set up a certain dilemma. Panic sets in already on New Year’s Eve when the pact with the new year might fall apart at the stroke of midnight. Remove my hand from the snack bowl right after the ball drops? Not gonna happen.

Or maybe I don’t like resolutions because I have a hard time sticking with a plan. A career in science will do that. The unexpected always happens. I’ve learned to modify and adapt.

No, I don’t like resolutions, but I do like the idea of looking back and considering what I can build upon from the previous year (hmm, experiment).

Because the idea of a resolution is heavy. Resolutions make me feel as if I’m starting from nothing. And instead of starting from nothing, I’d rather think about the new year as a chance to consider expanding upon something I got going from the last year or any year.

Walking every day? Maybe I can walk a little further, faster. Writing blog posts? Maybe that’s a book.

So I ask myself, not what are my resolutions, but what can I do next with what I’ve got? Is a new idea or project so far out of my realm of experience? Or is there a link to something I’m already doing?

I didn’t start to think how straightforward it might be to apply the career skills I’ve mastered throughout my life in new ways until I left the lab bench several years ago. I loved what I was doing, loved my project, so the move felt drastic, like cutting off a limb (I was also leaving a country and a way of life). But what I really did, was reset my focus. Although I left mixing molecules in test tubes behind, I continued to edit and write scientific literature.

Once I got into editing and writing as a business, it wasn’t such an effort to write stories extracted from other areas of my life, like travel and art. I’ve even tried to write some fiction in the past year which is more of a mental exercise than anything else. Will this kind of work get published? Some of it has and some, not likely, but it for sure won’t if I never try.

So here I am in the new year, looking over what I did last year. Anything that’s something? Yes. One big thing and something I’ve always wanted to do: write a novel. The novel is written (it took a couple of years, well of thinking about it), in some form of the English language. I did in a sense start from nothing, no words on the page and I didn’t know what might happen for the 80,000 words until THE END. I just started to write. There’s a word for writing without an outline-it’s called being a panster. And that looks a lot like what happens at the lab bench. Well, for some of us.

While it’s a long way from having any readers other than myself, or maybe never, the book, you see, is now something, not nothing.

I tend to think of my photography as a big something, not nothing also in development over several of the previous years. It’s been growing ever since I took my first shot underwater. Now I’m selling beach and underwater photos at a local shop, and in the past year, I’ve even taken some shots on film. It’s hard to know if I’m getting it right. Only looking at the images months after I’ve taken them. But it’s not starting from nothing. The same principles apply to film photography as in digital photography. Minus the instant gratification.

If I ask myself, “what got me here?” I have to answer science. I left the country, to do more science, even though everything else about the move was a huge unknown. Would I have a life outside of science? Science was the thing to hold onto. And living in Norway gave me freedoms I didn’t have in the USA. More travel. With traveling came more time for scuba diving, with scuba diving came underwater photography. And with underwater photography came a deepening interest in photography.

Science has not only impacted what I do, but how I do it. It’s a basic purpose, methods, and results approach to life. I think of what I want to do, I do the research to find out how to do it, and I follow through with the experiments.

What I’m saying is, a leap might not be such a big leap. It could be disguised as something else you might already be doing. And once you try, you might even wonder why you didn’t start sooner. That thought can bring you down. My way around it, though, is that I needed to do all that other stuff to bring me here today.

But I’m only writing this post after already a few days into the new year. And maybe that’s the point. The new year is just another day. It means something because of your birthday and taxes, but that’s about it. Because every day is a chance to build on something from the day before.

So that’s it, one part what you do already, one part applying it in a new way. That’s the something, not nothing way to look at the new year.

See where you go with that.

©Janice Marie Nigro/

Looking for a scientific editor or writer? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Ink. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer ResearchPLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.


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