With all the glitter and dazzle that surrounds our New Year's celebrations, there also comes the inevitable question: "So, what are your New Year's resolutions?" I generally have dreaded this question, and have usually found ways to give vague or ambiguous answers. When I was younger I did not know why this question made me feel uncomfortable. But as I grew in my life and my practice as a therapist I began to figure out why this particular tradition did not rest well with my personal and professional philosophy.
When asked for their resolutions, people will often present the "laundry list" of things they want to change in their lives. Some may want to eat healthier, get back to the gym or lose weight. All of these are great goals, but more often than not these resolutions end up as disappointments. I wondered if I was trying to avoid change by not making resolutions, but as I observed the disappointments that accompanied many resolutions, I thought maybe the resolution mindset is not the best way to be approaching the New Year. If we enter the New Year with "resolutions" ind mind, maybe we are setting up a situation in which we are missing the opportunities that are right there in front of us.
Let's look at the word resolution. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word resolution means "the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict or problem" or "a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent". So if we operate from this definition of resolution we are either approaching our lives as a problem to be fixed, or we are formalizing our intent to change something in our lives. Change is inevitable and part of every day and every year. Why do we then need to set resolutions in order to change things, when change is a natural part of the process? The answer could be that by making a resolution we create a sense of accountability. Our resolution focuses us on what we want to change, and by formalizing it we are trying to create a personal accountability for this change.
Focus and accountability are good things, and necessary for self-improvement. However, the resolution model of change still did not fit into my philosophy. Although focus and accountability are needed, something still seemed to be missing. As mistakes are the enemy of perfectionism, then failed resolutions become the enemy rather than the path to growth. This leads to frustration and discouragement. A perfectionistic approach to accountability actually limits our growth, as it leads us away from improvement. Accountability in its purest form is a great thing, as true accountability is about learning and cleaning up the mistakes we make, rather than avoiding mistakes.
In the MORE Philosophy, mistakes are the "yellow brick road" to self-growth and are needed to live an exceptional life. If we look at accountability as an opportunity to learn from mistakes, then we are not caught in the cycle of expectation and disappointment. There is no failing at New Year's resolutions, but rather many ongoing opportunities for growth and change. So rather than resolutions, maybe we could begin the year by asking each other "What are the opportunities you are open for this year?"
My book "MORE: A New Philosophy for Exceptional Living" states that the O in MORE is for "Opportunity." Life is filled with opportunity. It is a series of different opportunities with a series of different possible outcomes. It is not possible to take every opportunity, but if we take no risks, constantly hesitate, and let all the opportunities pass by, our lives will become stagnant and have no movement. If we are trying to avoid mistakes we will avoid opportunities.
We can be creative forces in our own lives by choosing which windows of opportunity we will open and move through. Not every opportunity has assured success nor can we expect a great outcome from every choice. Each opportunity can be a learning experience if we allow it and open ourselves up to see what lesson lies within. To approach the beginning of the year with excitement about the opportunities ahead seems much more preferable way to approach a new year.
The best guides to choosing your opportunities are your curiosity and your fear. Therefore a more productive way to begin the year might be ask ourselves "What am I curious about this year? What do I fear?" By paying attention to our curiosity and fear we can create the "favourable juncture of circumstances" that the dictionary uses to define opportunity. Stay curious in life and you will have some interesting experiences. However, if you find yourself fearing the opportunity, be warned that it just might be the one you need to pursue. There is an amazing liberation in transforming a fear by taking it on as an opportunity and moving through it. This is how we build our confidence, competence and sense of courage in the world. In the end, courage is the reward that comes from working through a fear or cleaning up a mistake. So rather than another "laundry list" of things you want to change this year, how about we open ourselves to the opportunities to work through fear and lean new things about ourselves and this exceptional life we are living.