Here we are at the end of another December. A time for looking back over the past year and looking ahead into the new one. Some of us will indulge “one last time” before beginning a strict diet on January 1st. Some of us will set lofty goals to exercise 6 days a week at the gym that we hate. Some will get out a blank journal with the intent of getting up early every single day to write down three positive thoughts. New years resolutions come in many forms, and sometimes they even stick for awhile. Benefits have been seen by setting one’s sights on making change with the turn of the calendar year.
But. So often it’s the same old same old every year. The diet starts strong and tapers off by February. It turns out we still hate the gym enough to stay home more often than not. “Thinking positive” starts to feel like pulling the wool over our eyes and avoiding the root issue. New years resolutions can be useful in setting a path forward, but they also fail a large percentage of the time. They don’t do what we really want them to do. They don’t change what we want them to change.
Do we throw in the resolution towel then? Stop setting goals since we just fail at them over and over again? Embrace our negative thinking since that’s what feels real?
Maybe. Actually, I propose we do all of those things.
First up: Replace “resolution” with “revolution.”
Parker Palmer writes, “I want to write about my resolve to commit to a few of the revolutions we need if we’re going to regain our humanity.” What revolutions do you want to be a part of in the year to come? What issues are truly speaking to you? What do you need to use your voice, however it sounds, to stand for? Palmer goes on to say: “Revolutions that succeed are always for something rather than merely against this or that. But if we’re serious about what we’re for, we need to name what we’re willing to stand openly against. It’s not enough to say “Yes!” to things like love, truth, and justice without saying a loud, clear “No!” to their ruthless enemies, risking reprisals as we do.” Think bigger than going to the gym or starting a diet or even positive thinking. The real change comes when we figure out what we stand for, and then stand for it, no matter what.
Next: Replace positive thinking with reality.
Sounds like bad advice, right? How can positive thinking ever be a bad idea? Well, friends, when we gloss over what’s truly going on with what we feel, or the situation at hand, we run the risk of making the situation worse than it already is. When we can feel what we feel, regardless the crap that comes along with it, we are setting ourselves up to be able to find happiness in any situation in which we might find ourselves. As Oliver Burkeman writes, “Through positive thinking and related approaches, we seek the safety and solid ground of certainty, of knowing how the future will turn out, of a time in the future when we’ll be ceaselessly happy and never have to fear negative emotions again. But in chasing all that, we close down the very faculties that permit the happiness we crave.” Feel what you feel, even if it isn’t positive. Honor what’s going on, not by sinking into despair, but by observing and truly feeling whatever it is you need to feel without attaching a label to it. When we can do that, those negative emotions and thoughts no longer have power over us.
Finally: Don’t set goals.
Yes, you read that right. I’m saying to not focus on goal setting, here at the turn of the calendar year during prime goal setting season. Goals can have a lot of value of course. There is nothing wrong with visualizing where you’d like to be in three months, or what you’ll do three days per week to achieve it. But when we rely only on setting goals and focus all of our efforts on meeting the goal no matter what we miss out on other paths that might show up along the way. We might miss the chance to practice acceptance. Or ask for help. Or try something different than we ever have before. I might even go as far as to say that uncertainty (or even failure) can be the best outcome if it allows us to live fully in the present and remain radically authentic to what truly matters. Through the unknown, or even failure, we might be offered the opportunity to shift our perspective on something, or to forgive, or to build resiliency. Embracing uncertainty lets a bit of the mystery back in. Ann Lamott writes, “You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice [on life] I have ever heard.”
So, decide what good things you’ll do for yourself as a new year takes hold, but don’t forget to honor what’s at the heart of your desire to change. Look past the resolutions, the positive thinking and the goal setting, and lean deeply into the revolutions that need to take hold in you, and in the larger collective. Honor those revolutions that speak directly to your soul and the soul of the world. Be radically authentic. Because in that place, even if it hurts for awhile…. that’s where the magic happens.
**To dig further into the practice of radical authenticity, check out LM Browning’s latest offering, To Lose the Madness: Field Notes on Trauma, Loss and Radical Authenticity