As I See It: Rethinking the Resolution
March 21, 2011 Victor Rozek
If you’ve ever been an active member of a gym or health club, you’ve probably witnessed the annual fitness migration. Every January, the facility gets unbearably crowded as flocks of newbies, swaddled in spandex, stumble about solving the mysteries of the Nautilus. The regulars look at each other and shrug. They’ve seen this before. It’s the New Year’s resolution crowd, and they’ll all be gone by March.
Well, it’s March, a good time to revisit those New Year’s resolutions. Did you make any this year? If so, how’s it going? If you’re like me, probably not so well. More often than not, making resolutions is like collecting sticks with which I can beat myself later. Eventually, I learned not to pick up the sticks.
Which is not to say that the desire to improve myself is not a worthy goal (just ask my friends). The problem lies with the nature of “resolutions.” This I learned from the people we send to Congress. Each time they pass a resolution, it has a handy modifier that absolves them of all responsibility: non-binding. Whether it’s a call for troop withdrawal, or solidarity with the turnip growers of Liechtenstein, none of it means anything. Subconsciously, we’ve come to understand that resolutions are purely symbolic, like my annual head-fake to working out regularly.
Plus, the very language of New Year’s resolutions all but guarantees their failure. Resolutions are typically future-based:
“I’m going to. . . “
“This year I will . . . “
But the future is always sprinting ahead, just out of reach, mocking me with the pressures of the present. Resolving to do something in the future says nothing about when the activity will actually begin, or how often I’ll do it, or for how long. There’s lots of weasel room. Like resolving to clean the garage–there will always be something more compelling tugging at my attention. And until that something is my wife brandishing a cell phone threatening to call the divorce attorney, the garage can wait.
Then there’s the problem of qualifiers: “I will be more patient.” I will drink less alcohol.” Well, how much more patient? How much less alcohol? It’s tempting to say, “Hey, don’t bug me with details. Just a drop less and I’m a success.” But words are critical since they not only describe reality, they create it. How we employ them matters because they can set us up for success or failure. For example, “I will drink no more than one beer a day,” is a much more powerful affirmation than the promise to drink less.
But if resolutions, by virtue of linguistic structure and congressional abuse, are avenues that lead to failure, how else can I capitalize on the hope and energy that abounds every January only to be crushed by mid-March?
There’s a truism that says if you want to know your true intentions, look at the results you create. Equally true is the corollary: If you want to change your results, change your intentions. The challenge for IT professionals is that the process of “setting intention” is largely a right-brain activity and therefore somewhat foreign or uncomfortable to a community of linear thinkers. Just reading about the subject can be discouraging. Most of the writing on intention is full of New Age vagaries that say everything and mean nothing. But being primarily a left-brain kind of guy, I’ve broken down some of the advantages of jettisoning resolutions in favor of setting intentions.
First, setting intention is well suited to the present tense: “I intend to workout today.” Each morning, I can set as many or as few intentions as I want. If I’m tired today, my intention could be to rest; if the traffic is terrible, my intention could help me choose to be patient. If I have a long-term intention, like getting a degree, I can ask myself “What can I do today to move me toward my goal?” So perhaps my intention for the day is to study, or to sign up for classes. I set my compass for the kind of day I want, and intentions provide a direction. Resolutions, on the other hand, are more like destinations which can either be reached or unreached. Failure is built into resolutions because they are binary. Yes or no; I made it or I didn’t. And the more I fail, the more I judge myself and the more I worry, which does nothing but immobilize me even further.
Intentions are more fluid. One of the beauties of setting intention is that it doesn’t imply you’re actually going to do anything, only that you mean to do so. On the surface that may seem counterproductive, but it’s liberating. It removes the pressure of absolute commitment, and the self flagellation for falling short. Intention is a guide who walks at my pace; resolutions are a drill sergeant who dictates the pace.
Needless to say, intention without action is daydreaming, and action is spurred by congruence. If some part of me is not in alignment with my intention, a lack of follow-through will sabotage the outcome. In that case, the reason for the resistance must be addressed, or the intention modified until it finds no further resistance.
Coupled with aligned action, intention creates what New Agers call manifestation, and the rest of us call results. The odd part, difficult for left-brainers to grok, is that desired results often appear as improbable coincidences (i.e., shortly after I set a clear intention to publish a book, I meet a publisher at a party). Wayne Dyer, who takes an admittedly metaphysical slant on life, calls such coincidences “an alignment of forces fitting together in flawless harmony.” A more left-brain translation might be: What you pay attention to determines what you get.
Perhaps most important, setting intentions allows you the flexibility of being a learner. Learners are expected to fail, allowed to experiment, and encouraged to make necessary adjustments. Goals can be emended based on new insights. Failure becomes part of the learning process rather than a personal judgment. While resolutions require that I “just do it,” intentions allow me to do things in ways that feel ecological in my system.
And when I do fail, which happens with annoying regularity, there’s a simple three-step process to get me back on track: Notice, Self-correct, and Recommit. (I notice I’ve not taken time to workout recently; I self-correct by working out; and I recommit to living my intention in the future.) Self flagellation is optional and not recommended.
There is an axiom in Neuro-Linguistic Programming that says: The bridge between a current state and a desired state is some missing resource. Thus, the bridge between being out of shape and fit could be exercise; the bridge between alcoholism and sobriety could be discipline; the bridge between a current job and a better job could be education. The resource bridge can be anything–from adopting a new belief to jettisoning an old habit; from time to money to acquiring a new skill. Beyond setting an intention to achieve a desired state–a job that pays a minimum of $100,000–I can set another intention to acquire the resource bridge that will lead me to that desired outcome–getting my Ph.D. The bridge identifies the action piece necessary to attain my goal, and setting my intention shows my commitment to that action.
If for no other reason, intentions are important because, as Emerson said: “The ancestor of every action is a thought.” Intentions, then, are my thoughts about how I want my life to be. And, I’m actually having a thought right now–an unusual occurrence for me, so I don’t want to lose it. I’m thinking that it’s March and therefore it’s probably safe to go back to the gym.
What do you think?