Make friends with your neuroses. Get curious about your desires.
Full disclosure: I’m totally ambivalent about the whole life review/resolution-making imperative that seems to be triggered by each new cycle of Earth’s trips around the sun.
I understand reviewing the past year provides an opportunity to reflect on successes and achievements. It creates a means for cultivating pride in accomplishments and generating gratitude for blessings.
Making resolutions helps us identify areas for growth so we can focus generative energy and intention toward their fulfillment.
Instead of a strategy that relies on willful determination to fulfill intentions/resolutions/desires, I’m implementing a gentler approach. It involves self-acceptance and curiosity rather than judgment and condemnation.
Yet resolutions can also feel culturally imposed, perhaps driven more by guilt and obligation than a true desire for change. One study from 2016 showed that of the 41 percent of Americans who made resolutions, only 9 percent felt they were successful by year-end.
So even though every January, gym memberships surge, weight-loss plan enrollments peak, and storage solution sales balloon, a fraction of those who set fitness and organizing goals actually accomplish them.
Considering a Gentler Approach
I’ve been in that camp. As I suspect may be true for others, it’s outfitted with a mindset defined by failure.
In late January 2020, I signed up for a gym membership. Although Covid-19 closed down the world shortly after, I kept paying monthly dues, mostly to support the wonderful work the YMCA does in my community.
But the gym’s reopening set off an internal battle: Every month as the bill came due, my aspirational self got pummeled by what I’ve come to think of as my internalized playground bully. He’s an ogre who shreds confidence and self-worth, trashes hope and ambition, and thwarts constructive progress at every turn.
In January 2022, I felt he’d won the battle over my resolution to work out. After two years, I canceled my membership, never having set foot on the track, splashed in the pool, lifted a weight, or stretched in the yoga studio.
So 2023 will be about shifting mindsets. Instead of a strategy that relies on willful determination to fulfill intentions/resolutions/desires, I’m implementing a gentler approach. It involves self-acceptance and curiosity rather than judgment and condemnation. By learning to regard lapses as guidance pointing to what works and what doesn’t, I expect I can make incremental adjustments and celebrate small successes along the way.
It’s a strategy I learned in meditation, and it’s much more about a shift in thinking than a change in behavior. It starts by disarming the battlefield of one’s mind.
For instance, if I recast the bully/ogre out to destroy me as Shrek—the smart, funny, albeit curmudgeonly ogre depicted in the animated Spielberg/DreamWorks films—then when the pummeling starts, I’m apt to experience it in a larger context. Instead of taking it in, I just note it and release it: “Hey, Shrek. Thanks for the input. I’m gonna take a different tack this time.”
Seriously. Giving a name to your most tenacious neurotic pattern and forging a peaceful co-existence is a solid first step toward dissipating its power to disrupt. That’s the self-acceptance part of the strategy. And it’s the entry point to curiosity.
Choosing Curiosity Instead
Once we’re able to accept that Shrek’s condemnations are merely signals to get curious, we’re free to make adjustments to the strategy.
In my case, I have two years of data indicating that gym membership isn’t an effective strategy for me to keep fit. So if I’m curious, I may wonder, “Is exercising regularly still important to me?” To which my honest answer is a solid, “Yes.” And if I’m curious, I may wonder, “Other than gym workouts, what forms of exercise would interest me?” And what comes up is, “Something outside. I love experiencing weather, especially storms. Anytime I can hear, see, and sense the natural world, my sense of belonging and connection gets a boost.”
So curiosity will then lead me to explore outdoor activities that enhance my life and keep me fit.
It’s a game changer. Instead of feeling guilt, disappointment, and shame over having failed at joining a gym, I can be thankful for a deeper understanding of what energizes me and a renewed interest in fulfilling my resolve to exercise.
Whether or not you formally set intentions or make resolutions, I pray any hindrance to the fulfillment of your soul’s potential is dissipated by the brightness of your light as we begin another cycle through the cosmos, spinning around the sun.
Rev. Kurt Condra is senior minister at Unity on the North Shore in Evanston, Illinois, and a frequent contributor to Unity publications.