I’ve noticed that goal setting works a whole lot better when I’m gentle with myself. Let me name it right off the top: I think New Year’s resolutions are often just ways for people to disappoint themselves. Do we need more reasons to beat ourselves up? No. Then why do we make them?
Because the lure of self-improvement is real. Even in the darkest moments of life, when motivation and hope are scarce, there is often a faint voice in the depths saying “I wish it were otherwise”.
I propose a new approach. I call it “Intentionally Misinterpreting the Word ‘Resolution’”.
It struck me this morning as I raced to Emergency (when I have some of my deepest thoughts). My inner musician, who I have mostly suppressed, had something to offer. “What if you decided to think of New Year’s resolutions as if they were chord resolutions?” the inner musician sang.
One of my favourite things about singing Bach was experiencing all the delicious crunches in the harmonies. It’s called dissonance, when two notes sound wrong together. It generates a little bit of yearning for things to sound right again. That’s the resolution: moving from dissonance to consonance, from discomfort to “all’s right with the world”.
What if resolutions weren’t lofty, absolute promises that rendered us failures with the first misstep?
What if a resolution was both a resting point and a new beginning? I could see resolution as a place of clarity: the tension of discernment on a particular issue has been resolved, and a new path lights up. Like “I see what I must do. And now I will do it”. Instead of a heavy intention we thump down on ourselves, this kind of resolution could spring from a heart that is sure of what it wants, drawn to the good it pursues.
A heart that’s drawn toward a good thing is amuch better driver of action and change than one that’s weighed down with guilt or shame. So this year I kick my New Year’s “shoulds” to the curb. Maybe I’ll do a little more discernment to sort out the tensions in my life, and find the issues I feel ready to move on. Start at a place of resolution, and take flight.