It is the first day of 2022, and people all over the world are beginning their new year’s resolutions. I am going to cut down my meat intake and try to be more mindful of how I spend my money. These resolutions essentially stem from an imagination of what we hope the next twelve months will look like, for ourselves, for others. The types of resolutions we make undoubtedly change as we get older, but regardless, there is always a tension between making them both aspirational and realistic.
By the same token, many people will avoid resolutions altogether to protect themselves from the feeling of failure that comes as a result of not being able to stick to or ‘complete’ whatever it is they have resolved to do.
The past two years have been particularly challenging, and despite the lingering feelings of stagnation after multiple lockdowns, politically, socially, environmentally, the world feels as though it is in turmoil. Many of us are beginning to understand and process issues that will most likely not be resolved within our lifetimes, and this can be extremely daunting.
It is therefore unsurprising that people choose to seek progress or fulfilment with goals that feel achievable. We look for things within our immediate surroundings that we can control: diet, exercise, our careers to some extent. This is not to undermine the need for personal goals, they are healthy, and they are motivating. But I have decided this year to change the way I approach these goals, and a fundamental part of this will come from accepting that a lot of worthwhile aspirations will not provide immediate gratification. Resolutions that are rooted in aesthetics or material possessions can come to fruition almost immediately if you want them to, but they so rarely provide the long-lasting sense of fulfilment that they promise.
Resolutions that are rooted in aesthetics or material possessions can come to fruition almost immediately if you want them to, but they so rarely provide the long-lasting sense of fulfilment that they promise.
Imagining a happier future based on these things feels attainable, especially when the world seems to face a new disaster every day that is beyond human control. However, it is important not to let fear of powerlessness stop us from thinking about how the world might look if we were able to change it.
We are all limited in what we can do, but we all have choices: how we vote, where we shop, what we read, how we travel, the people we surround ourselves with. Some choices are clearly more important than others, but I believe that the first two years of this decade have been a valuable learning curve for many people. Two years of life being put on and off hold have, at the very least, allowed for extended periods of self-reflection, and I believe that awareness and appreciation of the choices we make, and the impact they have, has grown as a result.
When I feel despondent or pessimistic about the future, I imagine the world fifty years ago and the changes that have been made regarding the issues that matter to me. There was a time when a world that allowed same-sex marriage or abortion would have been inconceivable. Focussing on these triumphs, and appreciating that they too once felt beyond our reach, is a productive, alternative coping mechanism to burying your head in the sand. All meaningful change begins with a vision. It is almost 60 years since Dr Martin Luther King made his ‘I have a dream’ speech in which he imagined an American society without racism. Would we say that Dr King’s speech was not a worthwhile imagining of the future, even though it is clear that it has not yet come to pass? No. It is important to keep the ideal we have imagined for ourselves in mind, even if the reality of progress can sometimes feel painfully slow.
Over Christmas, I read ‘Four Thousand Weeks’ by Oliver Burkeman, an interesting exploration of how our imagination can sometimes dictate the ways we invest our time. One passage in particular really resonated with this idea.
‘When we find ourselves procrastinating on something important to us […] We fail to see, or refuse to accept, that any attempt to bring our ideas into concrete reality must inevitably fall short of our dreams, no matter how brilliantly we succeed in carrying things off - because reality, unlike fantasy, is a realm in which we don’t have limitless control.’
Removing all emotional jeopardy from your goals is easier said than done, but this mindset is a liberating one, if nothing else.
The energy spent fixating on outcomes is better utilised trying to move towards what it is you are trying to achieve.
The energy spent fixating on outcomes is better utilised trying to move towards what it is you are trying to achieve.‘Dispiriting at this might sound at first, it contains a liberating message: if you’re procrastinating on something because you’re worried you won’t do a good enough job, you can relax – because judging by the flawless standards of your imagination, you definitely won’t do a good enough job. So you might as well make a start.’