Conventional New Year’s resolutions don’t interest me much. At least not before careful consideration. Here, then, are suggestions to help reconfigure your 2015 list. They fit with the notion of the road not taken; or the direction not discovered. They are ideas to apply to your resolution-making, not a set of 2015 goals themselves:
- Slash the resolutions you’ve already made! The more things on the list, the less likely you will attend to any of them. Achieving one or two life changes is remarkable enough. By reducing the number, you must decide what is important to you. The exercise has value by itself. When you consider the rest of the items below, keep this in mind.
- Challenge your intuitions. Research by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Haidt suggests we quickly and intuitively come to our positions on matters as serious as politics and religion. According to Haidt, our brain acts as a kind of post hoc lawyer to defend instinct-driven moral beliefs and to fool us into thinking the “defense” — the reasons we give for our stance — preceded our convictions. Opening your mind to rejected ideas isn’t easy, but it might enlighten you.
- Don’t borrow trouble. Most of the things about which we worry never happen. Beyond taking proper precautions over what you control, worry is an anxiety-inducing waste. Yes, look both ways before you cross the street, plan your financial future, eat well and exercise, but don’t obsess. Consternation offers you nothing. Need help? Check Craske and Barlow’s cognitive-behavioral program with your therapist or consider ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy).
- Realize the road is bumpy on occasion. A good life depends, in part, on knowing rocky and smooth stretches are unpredictable, inevitable, and temporary; all part of the highway we travel. Years ago I asked a wise financial advisor, Rick Taft, “How do you think stocks will do in the New Year?” His answer? “The market will fluctuate.” We could just as easily describe the inconstant fate awaiting us as an unavoidable fluctuation. No matter how smart you are, Fortuna (the Roman goddess of luck) spins her wheel. Good emotional shock absorbers are essential. Failures and tears add to the richness of our existence, however much you and I wish they could be avoided. You can learn from them, but only if you reflect on your life and keep a mirror handy for an occasional self-inspection.
- Whose life are you living? The one you want or the one designed to make people love you and accept you? Evolution led our ancestors to concern themselves with reputation. Those who did increased their chances of survival and mating success. Like a number of the qualities evolution “selected for,” a preoccupation with the opinion of others can drive us crazy. Happiness is not the aim of evolution, only passing on your genes to a new generation. Once again, you might need to fight instinctive tendencies if you wish more than an average measure of satisfaction. Anticipation of the world’s disapproval leads one to display a false self and worry about being unmasked. Remember, this is your life (not theirs), and tuning out some of the voices who criticize is part of creating a strong and resilient personality.
- Research suggests generosity to others is more fulfilling than spending your nickles on yourself. Similarly, experiences will offer more pleasure and satisfying memories (say, of a vacation) than things like an attention-getting sweater or a hot car. Think back. Do you feel warm inside as you remember the set of wheels you had 10 years ago? I don’t need to think hard: I am still driving the car I bought in 2000! More on how to get from here to happiness from Daniel Gilbert:
It is said that “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Just so, maturity is achieved by surviving life challenges plus the passage of time, with some learning thrown in, of course. I’m not suggesting disappointment and mistreatment are equally distributed among us, but each of us knows suffering and, fair or not, it is in our interest to learn from the bad breaks.
All the above considered, here are ideas to push your sail boat off the dock and into the fresh waters of the New Year:
- It is not that you have done wrong (you have), but whether you do more and more good.
- It is not that you fall, but whether you get up.
- It is not that you are a victim, but whether you are a survivor.
- It is not that you make mistakes (you will), but whether you learn from them.
- It is not that you get angry, but whether you get over it.
- It is not that friends and lovers disappoint you, but whether you still believe in friendship and love.
- It is not that you erred, but whether you took responsibility.
- It is not that you take life seriously, but whether you also recognize its laughable absurdity.
- It is not that you’ve forgotten what’s been lost, but whether you are grateful for what you have.
- It is not that you see life’s ugliness, but whether you seek its beauty.
To close, the following old words from the nineteenth-century Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, seem just right for 2015:
“Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare us to our friends and soften us to our enemies. Give us strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death loyal and loving to one another.”