The days leading up to the New Year are often filled with a whole host of feelings and emotions. Excitement. Gratitude for the blessings of the past year. Dreams for what is possible. Regrets for the mistakes we made. Feeling of failure for things we neglected to do.
We find a quiet spot, sit down and pencil out what we resolve for the New Year. “This will be the year that I . . . .” or “By December 31, I will have . . .”
After a few days in, a couple of things may have happened. We may have approached these renewed commitments with vigor and passion as we started off the year off in a full sprint. Or maybe, the weight of our dreams feels too much. Standing at the starting line on January 1, we cannot hide from our doubts. So we plan next steps or make lists, because that doesn’t feel like procrastination. Or we simply lie on the couch, watching football, and don’t pretend to start toward a future that cannot guarantee us our dreams.
To help nudge us on our way, psychologists write articles on things such as resilience, self-regulation, goal-setting, grit, sisu. Each has its subtle difference. But at their core, they all involve a certain stick-to-it-ness, a passion to proceed or a refusal to let go.
But so often we fail in our dreams because we forget that the goals are only representative of something. Yes, people who write down their resolutions are ten times more likely to attain their goals than those who do not. Yes, we are more successful in reaching our goals when they are clear and measurable. However, the resolutions scribbled in indelible ink are simply a means of taking our temperature to see whether we are living the lives we want to live.
As we go about doggedly pursing a dream, we sometimes we forget what psychologist Chris Peterson called “appropriate disengagement”. That it can be better for our health and well-being and even our successful attainment of a dream, to let go of the things we scribbled down and placed in envelopes to be opened next year. We sometimes forget that the mountains rising up in the distance are not the aim. They are more important than that. The mountain-shaped horizon reminds us of the direction we are headed.
To avoid the tyranny of our goals, to live in alignment with our dreams, place your resolutions into two tiers. One is measurable, specific. Maybe this is the year you will lose those forty pounds, quit smoking or finish the book.
But also set for yourself, what is behind the individual goal, what it points toward. Forty pounds is a daunting, taunting number. But it only is a measure to mark your progress toward something held more deeply. Maybe you are tired of that pain in your back and the shortness of breath; the way it keeps you from playing with your children out in the yard. Maybe you just want better overall health so you can be with them when they are parents and giving you grandchildren. Maybe the true desire is to be able to fully participate in life again.
Three years ago I could barely bend my knee. My doctor gave me medication to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. I had a limp. I couldn’t run.
I did not resolve to go to the gym three days a week and strap myself to some modern breaking wheel. I knew I just needed to find ways to move naturally and playfully. That was forty pounds ago. The medications are all gone. I am riding bicycles and climbing trees again.
Continue to set goals that are measurable. Break them into achievable bites. Tackle them one-by-one. But do not be afraid to disengage and reassess when what you thought was your goal starts leading you down the wrong trail and away from that life really want.