New Year Resolve?

At the turn of the year, thoughts can gravitate to the 3 Rs – Review, Reflection and Resolution.

Some make that third R a different one – Rebellion! Dissatisfied by the crash and burn of past years, they determine NOT to resolve anything, and so avoid the mid-January tail-spin into disappointment. I remember how every new ‘rough book’ of my schooldays, with its fresh, blank pages, inspired resolutions of exemplary neatness. Yet all too soon these pristine exercise books degenerated into scruffy scribble-pads.

It’s true that the mere ringing of bells marking one year’s shift to the next is no magic spell to make difficult challenges a breeze. So why bother go round the loop again?

I still make some resolutions, but my approach has gradually changed. I used to be a great shining goal-setter, full of lofty and impossible ideals. Now, I start by reviewing more carefully how and why intentions faltered, as well as where they won through. This change of perspective is a work in progress, but it’s helped me hold some hope in charting a course ahead.

I try to look back dispassionately, rather than indulge in a remonstration-fest. I re-read what I journaled as hopes, goals, aspirations and intentions a year ago. What progress have I made along those lines of desired travel? I need to be honest but fair. There can be many reasons for not achieving a goal: Perhaps I pitched at too much, too soon. Unforeseen events may have claimed urgent attention: illness; loss; a friend or family member’s need for support; a change of role.

At a workshop I attended, we were encouraged to write down a list of personal goals and choose one to work on.‘Don’t choose the one you’re always meaning to get round to,’ the Facilitator advised. ’In your hear of hearts, you probably don’t really want to pursue it.’

I celebrate what has gone well. Where have I moved forward? Maybe, say, I’ve not won the Booker Prize (yet) but I’ve written half a novel. I acknowledge with gratitude times when things have things worked out, even where I feel this was not down to me. Maybe a providential opportunity or shift of direction came up that was crying out to be followed up. Cast-iron ambitions benefit from some plasticity. Maybe there were unlooked-for achievements, too. Sometimes people have fed back that I’ve contributed something that’s made a difference in an area at the edge of my personal radar. I need to take note.

Having done that, I’ll set new goals for the year ahead, and use journalling along the way to keep myself accountable. 

Some principles I’ve gathered over time and try to bear in mind are:

1. To reduce my spread of aspirations. This year, I’m focusing on only three key headings, just as I complete a jigsaw more effectively if I concentrate on limited areas at a time, paying attention only to those colours and shapes. The same is true of the day-to-day. It’s been said that people tend to overestimate what they can do in a day, but underestimate what they can do in a year.

2. To focus more on the process of going where I want to go, rather than the destination. When I ran a half-marathon, I did not just get up and do it. I had to train – to work at activities that I could do with the aim of building up to something that I couldn’t yet accomplish. I grew in capacity incrementally.

3. To orientate myself by the compass rather than the clock. In other words, to set my direction carefully, but without too tight a pre-set timetable for the effects of changes I’m making; To let things unfold in a more natural way, rather than pushing my personal life like a production line.

4. To stop comparing separate aspects of my one life with different experts in their field. No good comes from this. In Britain on the Couch, Oliver James observes the depressing effect of ‘comparative deprivation,’ where having enough becomes not enough only when we see that someone else has more.

5. To budget time and energy as carefully as money. It these resources are finite, how much do I want to fritter away on browsing social media or fretting about situations – from personal to global – that I have no immediate power to change?

6. To be open to approaching goals slant. When I eat more healthily, I’m also rewarded with the side-effect of weight-loss, more effectively than when I focus very deliberately on dieting. There may be more creative ways to get to where we want than charging at something directly.

7. To discern the difference between the times I need to push myself beyond the comfort zone and the times I need to let go and give myself a break. I need to stay attuned to my limitations alongside my possibilities. To stay human.

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