At first you don't even notice it. What's to see? Funny how the ground level on either side of your feet remains unchanged, or barely changed, for so long. Then, okay, a slight rise, but not so high that you couldn't jump over it. Not that you do. But you could. Then look away for a sec, and damn, you're down so deep that you can hardly see the sky. And the sides at arm's length are steep and slimy.
You dug your trench, or someone dug it for you. You plodded away in it thinking This is cool or This is okayor thinking nothing at all, until . . .
Your chains are shiny steel and weigh a ton, and you smelted them all by yourself.
You did it in the name of lethargy. Habit. Or fear. In the name of what once was passion. Or a paycheck. And that's where resolutions are born: those uh-ohmoments when you wonder where the sky went. Yeah, how arbitrary: One year clicks into another. That's just something the ancient Romans cooked up along with sandals and aqueducts. January is just an excuse. But really any excuse, any kick in the butt, is golden if it will make you stop bingeing on wasabi-flavored Funyuns. Or stalking the baby-sitter. Or if it can make you start pole-dancing. Or spaying stray cats.
Stopping. Starting. Sometimes the goal seems so easy: Read more. Drive less. Sometimes it seems so hard: Stop being late to everything. Save a life. Sometimes it seems more like an eleventh commandment than like anything you could actually achieve. Start amassing a nest egg. Stop e-mailing your ex.
Yet getting out of ruts is easier this year than ever. Try to talk yourself out of anything these days, and you find that gyms are open 24 hours. Airlines offer round-the-world fares. Universities offer degrees -- real ones, with textbooks and research projects -- that can be earned without taking a single step on campus. (Google "external degree" to yield about 60 million hits.)
A lifeline dangles into every rut right now. This Resolution Guide is positively riddled with ropes. Grab one and climb.