The blogosphere of late has been filled with lists of resolutions for the new year.
I don’t mind them. I actually enjoy peeking into other people’s psyches. And after reading ten or twenty of them, I began to see a pattern. I love it when a pattern develops. I love it even more when I see two patterns.
The first pattern I’ll call “Let’s hear it for New Year’s Resolutions.” This is a three-pronged pattern within which lie the vast majority of Resolutions.
- Self-improvement-related (eating better, exercising more, losing weight, quitting smoking, managing stress, going back to school, learning something new. The list is endless)
- Money-related (saving it, earning it, spending it, investing it, sharing it …)
- Relationship-related (more time with family, better friends, helping others, volunteering; enjoying life, and so forth.)
The second “pattern” — though I’m now doubting that it’s actually a pattern, per se; but anyway — are those almost-lists that bemoan New Year’s Resolutions. These authors often berate themselves for having once failed to succeed, their past lists have turned into evidence of their failure. Hence, no more lists.
This led me to think about the resolutions I have made over the years. Call them what you will: promises, commitments, intentions, decisions, goals. We visualize something different (i.e., better), want it, and go after it. Some we achieve and some we do not. I’m no different. In last week’s blog, I checked off getting my book published (finally) but, alas, no pea hens. There were goals I’d met and ones I’d not met.
But, I wasn’t concerned about not meeting them.
I also noticed that none of my goals fit neatly into any of those three categories I listed initially above. I wondered if I was missing something. Was this connected in some way to why I still like these lists?
I’m not opposed to resolutions, goals, plans. In fact, I like them. Heck, I love planning. I serve on my town’s planning committee. For over twenty years I worked in non-profit development and was constantly tuned into the need for the “five-year plan.” The love of planning, I think, came embedded in my DNA.
I write on, believing I’ll eventually figure this out.
I have made these resolution lists every year since 1992, beginning when I was given Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go. Every morning for nearly four years, I would read that day’s meditation, write about it, and take it to heart as best I could. I was very fortunate to have the time and the wherewithal to devote so much time to “letting go.”
I think of that time as the years I became a grownup.
And each January 1 since, my writing for that day has included a list of goals for the coming year.
Here’s what Melodie Beattie says about setting New Year’s “goals.” This is from January 1 in her Language of Letting Go.
Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part. It is an affirmation that you’re interested in fully living life in the year to come.
Goals . . . put a powerful force into play on a universal, conscious, and subconscious level.
Goals give our life direction.
What would you like to have happen in your life this year? What would you like to do, to accomplish? What good would you like to attract into your life? What particular areas of growth would you like to have happen to you? What blocks … would you like to have removed?
What would you like to attain? … Where would you like to go? … What problems would you like to see solved? What decisions would you like to make? …
Write it down. Take a piece of paper, a few hours of your time, and write it all down — as an affirmation of you, your life, and your ability to choose. Then let it go.
She writes so clearly.
So, I’m wondering if the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that we haven’t really dug into what WE want. As a result, they reflect not so much what WE really want, but those things we think we are “supposed” to want.
- we should lose 15 pounds; heck, while we’re at it we should make it 20.
- we ought to quit smoking. We know it’s bad for us
- And so forth.
I think too often these lists are designed with the invisible “mother” wagging the proverbial finger and saying “tsk, tsk, tsk.” (Well, that’s what “should” means anyway, right?)
How ’bout this as a theory? When we set resolutions based on what others don’t like, we set ourselves up for
Even more importantly, I’m thinking, when we begin from a place of acceptance, what follows is an organic flowing towards what is
sought. We don’t have to force it. It’s a paradox, I know. Yes; when we begin from a place of acceptance . . .
Might the problem come with the forcing, the working too hard to achieve these goals? It’s something akin to Zen and the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel, published the year (I like to tell people) I was born.
We hit the target when we stop working so hard, stop thinking so much, when we just relax and let the arrow do its thing.
Granted, this is after a gazillion hours of practice, so that the muscles are primed to do what they are supposed to do. Great musicians and famous athletes talk about the same sense of abandonment, of just letting go of trying, of “being in the zone.” I think many writers know this too. Yes?
So, back to our New Year’s Resolutions. How can we apply this Zen to the art of achieving New Year’s Resolutions?
I go back to Melody Beattie. Her first words:
Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life
And her last:
Write it down … then let it go.
Stop trying so hard. You know what you want. Or do you?
Next week, I’ll post what I’ve “dug up.”
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I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, and would probably soon forget what they were if I did. This is not because I don’t have any goals. Far from it, I have lots of those. It’s simply because it strikes me as a rather artificial format for nudging oneself into a corner and committing to things one really doesn’t want to be bothered with. It’s a bit like ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ that famous game of social standing and being seen to do things that others will admire.
It’s all stuff and nonsense, and anyway, I still have unfinished business from last year to get on with. So why should I set a whole lot of new targets, most of which will be cobbled together without real commitment to satisfy a social convention to which I can’t be bothered to subscribe?
This probably makes me sound like a grumpy old man with no forward view and no interest in life. Not at all, I look forward to the future with great anticipation. I have all sorts of goals, but they aren’t constrained by timescales like ‘during the next year’. There’s a more important quality that I seek and that is to enjoy the experience and fully appreciate it as I move towards each goal. The journey is far more fun than the destination. Once you’ve arrived the journey is over, done, complete finished and there’s nothing more to experience or do. OK, so you can tick it off on a list as being an achievement, but so what?
In place of New Year’s resolutions I like to look at the progress I’ve made with tasks in hand, with journeys undertaken, and review the experiences I’ve had along the way. Would I do anything different if I had the same opportunities again? Are there lessons I can learn from this and enjoy? And will these change the way I approach those tasks and journeys that are still in progress in my life? This offers great excitement and the opportunity for new adventures, with all the anticipation and hopes to add spice to the mixture.
The future has enough excitement already built into it without me adding to the pile by making commitments I won’t really strive to stick to. So I’ll just keep on with those commitments that form the basis of my life – family, friends, writing, doing the things in the community that I’ve taken on over the years, and appreciating that through the hard work of others (a lot of dedicated medics who keep repairing me) I’m still here to do them.
Oh, and I look forward to meeting new people and discovering new interests, but then I’ve always done that and don’t need a resolution to motivate me.
One last thing: I never face that disappointment of resolutions that have been forgotten or allowed to fail. I don’t look at my life and think, ‘Oh well, I’ll try again next year’. Life’s too busy for that and when something really needs doing I just do it, or get someone else to do it if I can’t.
Happy New Year!
Hi Ian. What struck me most from among all the nuggets in your comment was that those “social convention” we so abhor are sometimes just a fine line away from those behaviors that help us know which tribe (society, culture, nation) we belong to. I too chaff at “social conventions” yet I long to find my tribe. In fact, that’ll come up again next week as I write more about the “resolution” I’ve latched onto. Thanks, as always, for your contribution to a lively conversation.
I don’t think I have ever made a New Year’s resolution. Either I am perfect already (I am thinking, thinking), or I have so many things wrong with me that a resolution just wouldn’t make much difference. I’m still thinking.
I don’t suppose “make a new year’s resolution” makes a proper new year’s resolution, huh? 🙂
Interesting reflection/analysis, Janet. I prefer the words Intention or affirmation to resolution, which seems pejorative to me too.
I’m at my writing station right now, but upstairs on the kitchen table are timeline pages for my memoir draft. There are spaces I want to fill in. Gotta get crackin’!
You mentioned at the end “Stop trying so hard.” Are you familiar with Amy Grant’s “Don’t Try So Hard”? Encouraging tune which I carry on my iPod.
I’m not, Marian. I shall look her up soon as I finish here. I’m sitting at the airport gate, waiting for my flight home. Knowing it can only go up, after the flight here. Cheers. See you soon.
After the comments from Woody and Ian, I’m beginning to wonder if the making of new year’s resolutions has a gender aspect to it. Marian makes them; she just calls them something else. I also, as we’ll see next week, see them as intentions.
I’m now curious about the relationship between introspection and new years resolutions, goals, intentions, etc. “Know Thyself” was a quote under my yearbook photo — something the yearbook staff knew I valued — in one of my schools. It’s been going on a long time.
For those inclined to disdain the making of resolutions, are you equally disdaining of introspection in general, or is it more that it’s done at a particular time of the year? Or that “everyone” does it; therefore you are not? Hmmmm. I’m seeing whole new direction to take this. Fascinating.
Following Woody’s comment and your speculation that there might be a gender difference, I conducted an impromptu poll of ten friends, five women and five men. I asked each of them whether they made New Year Resolutions and if so, did they keep them. You may be interested in the results:
Four of the women said they made firm resolutions. The fifth meant to, but usually got no further than saying she must lose weight and take more exercise. She’s been saying that for thirty five years to my certain knowledge and she’s far from portly.
When it came to keeping their resolutions, only one of the women lasted longer than the end of January, and she usually manages to keep to at least three of the five resolutions she makes each year right through until next Christmas. The reasons the others gave for giving up ranged from the realisation that it required more commitment than they thought, other priorities got in the way, other people got in the way (generally husbands and children), or that established habit just took over and they forgot. By the time the resolution was remembered it had been too badly broken to be resurrected.
Among the men, all five said they made New Year resolutions, but four admitted that they didn’t make them too challenging. As a result they had little problem keeping to them and usually managed to stick to them beyond living memory. (being men, I took this to mean about six weeks).
The fifth man never bothered to make any resolutions as he didn’t see the point. He thought it was all just a lot of hype generated by those who enforce jollity over the Christmas and New Year holiday. You might assume from this that the man in question is a curmudgeonly old fool, but in fact he is generally sunny and happy, friendly and co-operative and his family think he’s a hero. He’s also frighteningly competent at far too many skills the rest of us can’t muster.
I didn’t enquire about the resolutions themselves, as that seemed a bit personally intrusive, but I’m sure the academics of a social sciences faculty in more than one university, either in the US or in UK, will have done detailed and long winded studies on this subject.
Keep thinking, Woody! It’s less stressful than resolving and you don’t get the load of guilt when you stop!
Oh Ian, I want you to be my next door neighbor. When next you’re in the market to move, do let me know.
Janet, I love what you have done with your site. Good luck in 2015.
Lets stay in touch.
Thanks, Mary Lou. It’s great to hear from you. Indeed. As you’ll see next week, my focus for 2015 is “Connection” in all it’s myriad forms.
Janet, your in-depth, thoughtful analysis has my head spinning. I tend not to make resolutions but I do reflect upon lessons learned from the previous year and enjoy starting with a new slate. I am a list person and Iove crossing items off the lists. Letting go is a huge challenge but I find the older I get,the easier it has become. Melody Beattie saved me at one time in my life! And I love this line:”We hit the target when we stop working so hard, stop thinking so much, when we just relax and let the arrow do its thing.” Of course, as you said, it has taken years of training and hard work to get to that point. We used to have this mantra in teaching that can apply to this..”Fill your head and be yourself.” Thanks for another provocative post!
Hi Kathy. Oh dear; I hope you’re not dizzy!
I’m fascinated now with those who don’t make resolutions, yet still seem to identify a direction they want to take. And I like your phrase, “starting with a new slate.”
Thanks for stopping by. See you soon.
Janet I’d love to have you as my neighbour too. But after sixty something years trotting the globe, living in 32 different countries and visiting 67, and with wife, Gay, being very much of a home bird, I think I’ve finally taken root. However, the house next door but one to us is for sale, if you fancy coming over here! here.
Never one to pass up an adventure, Woody did ask me where you live. He says there is no part of England that isn’t beautiful.
There are a few parts that are scruffy, but round here it’s quite pretty. We’re on the northern end of the Cotswolds, a range of low rolling hills and pretty villages. Our village has grown enormously in the last twenty years, doubling its size. We now have 302 houses and about 720 residents, a school, a shop, two pubs and a part time Fire Station. There’s also a canal with a small marina and a derelict factory.