Aspirations rather than resolutions
Mind Moves: Aim to be more human instead of perfect.
I’m wary of new year resolutions. That’s not to say that my lifestyle couldn’t use some upgrading. I guess my wariness is because the intention behind so many of our resolutions seems to be about making us perfect rather than about making us more human.
However, it’s hard not to get caught up in the collective reflection on the way we live in this time of transition from the old to the new. So here are a few personal aspirations that I would like to aim for in 2012.
In the year ahead, I will make at least one major decision to take a leap of faith, even when I am not sure of the outcome, to immerse myself in the world I find around me, a world that is far from perfect and full of all manner of risks and threats.
In the year ahead, I will get down off the fence, stop insisting on things being other than they are, stop waiting for the perfect moment to act, stop waiting for myself to be perfect, and step into the cut and thrust of life as it is.
Sitting on the fence is one of those metaphors that have stood the test of time, probably because it strikes a chord with us. When we sit on the fence we set ourselves up for trouble. We yearn for an idealised past, a perfect future, anything but what is real. We find it hard to live in the world around us because it falls short of what we imagine it should be; we also cannot rest in our own skin, because we constantly feel that who we are is not enough.
Perfectionism leads to paralysis; we may sound high-minded and righteous as we hold forth about the way things should be, but inside we feel terrified.
We are afraid that if we hazard ourselves in the face of uncertainty, we will become part of a chaotic world, over which we will have no control. So we wait for the perfect moment, the perfect set of circumstances, the moment when we believe we cannot fail.
In 2012, I will be less loyal to my illusions of perfection, to trying to preserve an image of a world where everything is the way it should be, and to a version of myself that makes all the right decisions.
In the year ahead, I will do something that surprises the people who know and love me. I will take a chance, for better or for worse, and trust that with their support and with my own resources, I will do something creative, something new that brings a freshness to my life. Creativity comes from being engaged, from caring enough about something that you want to express in a new way. It comes from being open to new ways of doing something you’ve done a million times before.
Creative ideas are more likely to arise when we feel relaxed and grounded. So in the year ahead I will try to make time every day to settle myself and allow creative ideas and insights emerge.
In 2012, I will stop relying on others to second-guess what I need and ask for what I need – not aggressively, but with a clarity and directness that has not been my style. I will try to be more honest in my dealings with people, and in turn allow others to be honest with me.
In the year ahead, I will spend less time living in a world of fantasy where I substitute imaginary activity for the passivity of the moment.
Maybe all these behaviours were easier in some ways in times past. Many of us were raised in times where there were few choices. We were expected to commit even when we had few choices. In contrast, we have a vast number of options today, but we find it harder to commit.
We have raised a generation who have been encouraged to make choices from an early age. To choose between carrots or peas; between wearing the blue or the yellow shirt. To differentiate psychologically between what they like and what they don’t like, between what feels “cool” and what “sucks”. This may give our children a strong sense of themselves from an early age. But it may also set them up for a kind of perfectionism, where they find it difficult to engage with real life scenarios that are not always to their choosing: what wiser folk call reality.
In the year ahead, I will try to work with what I have and engage more courageously with what is happening around me.
Tony Bates is the founding director of Headstrong – the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, www.headstrong.ie
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times. Headstrong would like to thank the Irish Times for their ongoing support.