One of my best Christmas presents has always been a shiny new diary, preferably one with gold leaf on the edge of the paper. January 1st was a day of enormous possibilities as those blank pages, crisp beneath my fingers, beckoned me closer to make the first mark of the year. In neat, black capitals, I would write RESOLUTIONS.
Today, that very word sends shivers of panic along my spine. It implies the need to resolve something that presumably must be broken. Think of the sweeping statements you’ve made under your New Year Resolution list —
- Get fit.
- Lose weight.
- Cut back on social media.
- Make time for family and friends.
The very act of writing down these brassy statements can leave you feeling exhausted. It’s funny, isn’t it, how January 1st becomes the Do or Die date. We might fall off our wagon on January 6th because taking down the tree reveals a hidden chocolate buried in the pine needles and we can’t resist that final taste of Christmas. Then we beat ourselves up for having no willpower. Crazy, isn’t it?
One year, I re-framed these resolutions by turning them into GOALS. A positive word on those virgin pages. Goals don’t commit you to anything. They tease you along, gently encouraging you to take another step up the mountain. A feeling of exhilaration kicks in the higher you climb; it’s a great sensation, but there is one little problem. Like weeds, goals can grow and get out of hand. They need cutting back. Circumstances can get in the way. Political, economic and social changes might put the kibosh on that plan to set up a windfarm. Oops, did you not do your SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) before setting off? To achieve a goal, you need a strategy and a plan. It’s all sounding a bit business-like.
The reason that plans of mice and men go astray is that expectation far exceeds reality. We build a false construct that says by a certain age we should have it all figured out. Our careers are destined for incremental promotions, the three-bed semi near a good school for the child we don’t yet have, and the perfect partner who understands us so well – they are our mental benchmarks of success. We expect all of that to happen because we were told it would if we work hard. Nobody mentions that luck plays a role in this, and that’s something we can’t control. Not to mention an inflated sense of entitlement.
Then, reality kicks in. The jobs aren’t there, we can’t afford the house, and our partner can’t cope with our emotional highs and lows. Life smacks us round the back of the head when we least expect it. We’ve not looked at the long-range weather forecast, and have no resources to deal with the upcoming hurricane.
Fixating on a single outcome with no wriggle room is a recipe for failure. Only wanting to climb up one side of the mountain removes an opportunity for growth and learning. Imagine what might be on the other side! It might be something more fulfilling!
I’m in favour of the Stoics’ idea of negative visualisation – planning for all outcomes, good and bad. It’s not pessimism to figure out the worst possible scenario, but pragmatic. If you can cope with that, the rest is a bonus. Facing reality involves building resilience and staying grounded. It means being resourceful to deal with the most unexpected of outcomes. It’s about a shift in perspective. Be more flexible and open to those delicious potentials that wait for you on a different mountain. Let go of the mental safety rope and fly.
Happy New Year, and may uncertainty become your friend.
– Angelena Boden
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