There’s nothing wrong with New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, they can be kind of fun. If we leave them in the fun column, they can even be quite humorous and playful. We can do three, six, nine, and end of year assessments to see how close we came to actually fulfilling them. The problem is when we turn them into weighty goals, they somewhere along the line begin to pull us underwater. This blog article will emphasize the personal growth development side of the title. I will also speak to the notion of long-term thinking and here-and-now action. But in so emphasizing, I’m not saying the two ideas are necessarily antithetical. In fact, I believe that day-to-day and here-and-now awareness can be both a comfort and a pathway to our long-term goals and personal development.
New Year’s Resolutions
Yes, ’tis the season for New Year’s Resolutions. I like the idea of planning and having goals. I think personal goals are an important component of who we are as human beings. Goals allow us to have some understanding on an individual level of how we want to shape our lives, what things we want to accomplish, and to establish some idea about the different place we want to be at this time next year or whenever. As so many people come to realize, however, resolutions are nothing but promises we make to ourselves that, in-and-of-themselves take us nowhere unless we put some kind of shoe leather on them. Doing something about New Year’s Resolutions is where here-and-now thinking comes into play. I have experienced the pitfall of resolutions myself, as well as having seen them in some of my friends. Typically what we do is set high-level goals without any idea of the steps it takes to get there. And in some cases, we might even come to the realization where we admit, yes it was a cool sounding goal, but quite frankly I really didn’t care about getting there. Moreover, I believe it is a common human experience to want to be at some peak, but not really look into what it takes to reach the acme of desire. And in many cases, we may really admire the goal, but not the nitty-gritty grind of what the goal calls for in its achievement.
I love reading. Several years back I made a New Year’s Resolution to read a ton of books. I even made a long list of many of the books I hoped to read. The list was idealistic to say the least, and if I had figured out how many pages I had to read each day to accomplish my goal for the year, I would’ve caved in right at the start. Though I love reading, that goal was not something I really wanted to do. There were many books on that list that I thought I should read, but in fact didn’t care about reading at all. Then I have to look at my method of reading. I don’t particularly care about planning out most things I read. I like to discover them accidentally, or thumb across some book on my bookcase that I haven’t thought of in a while and think, hey, I want to read this one. In other words, I like to have fun with my reading rather than turning it into a chore. So when I think about my reading goals, I keep those facts in mind now, but I do think about genres. For example, over a period of time I might plan to read some poetry, fiction, and non-fiction as a general plan. And then each day over that period of time, I let whatever strikes my fancy that day hit me, and I proceed. I also don’t have any problem once getting into a book and finishing it. Likewise, I don’t have any problems getting into a book and deciding it’s not as worthwhile as I thought and tossing it aside for another one. What I refuse to do now is to let a reading list become a weighty plan that makes me feel like I didn’t live up to something – and probably something I couldn’t have lived up to in the first place, and didn’t want to live up to in the first place.
Fun is one thing and should not be antithetical to personal development. But setting and reaching important goals is not necessarily fun all the time. If one thinks it should be, then some disappointments are lurking in the shadows. I’m the last person to talk to anyone about skillful planning, though it’s a subject in which I’ve become quite interested over the last few years. Unlike my reading, some goals can’t be left willy-nilly based on what strikes my fancy at the moment I get up in the morning. For example, I want to learn a new language. I’m thinking about Spanish because I took it in high school, and I still have some rudiments of knowledge, particularly the pronunciation of words. First, learning a language thoroughly so as to converse with it requires building a skill. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10k rule comes to mind, though I’m not sure I have 10k hours to depend on at this stage of my life. But building a skill requires time. If one wants to believe it doesn’t, if one feels better by believing it doesn’t, quite frankly, such deluded beliefs do not comport with reality, no matter how hard you want to believe differently and feel about it. Likewise conjugations and declensions are not fun all the time. Learning a new language can be a New Year’s Resolution. But what does the resolution mean for one’s actions on a day-to-day level? What does a resolution like learning a new language require for living in the here-and-now? Obviously, there is not single answer to these questions for everyone. The answer depends in much on how serious the goal is for each individual, what time frame each person wants to put on the goal, and how willing each person is to spend time day-in and day-out to accomplish the goal. For some people, like my reading, learning a new language might simply be something fun to piddle with now and then. That is one way of learning something. For other people, it might be a job requirement, a personal growth goal, and something that some people are truly serious about accomplishing. The problem with serious goals, like my long list of reading, is that the goal itself can become weighty, discouraging a person at the outset. Such discouragement is why a focus on here-and-now living is important. As people delve into developing a particular skill, they will learn what pace of learning is the best for them. In other words, they adjust their goals. People can’t adjust their goals unless they get started on them in the first place. There is wisdom in establishing short, concrete steps that one can engage to see how well such steps help one reach a goal. In taking the steps, people can come to realize how they can either slow down or pick up their pace toward their goal. The major thing is not to let a long-term goal disappoint so that no steps are taken at all. On the other hand, at points in time, disappointment and failure serve as important signals about reaching one’s goals. These experiences tell us how well we’re doing and what we need to really work on to develop a skill at the level we’re hoping to develop it. If you want to say, I know Spanish, but you can’t carry on conversation with anyone or read a Spanish text with some skill, I’m not sure what your claim is all about. Getting real with self-assessment is part of skillful planning. There is something to the comforting nature of knowing today is today, and tomorrow is tomorrow. And I would add, even with serious goals, have fun with them anyway. Who ever said that serious goals shouldn’t be fun and enjoyable? I do believe skillful planning, while projecting something into the future, is pulled off by living in the here-and-now. Accomplishing plans takes action. Action allows for assessment, reassessment, and adjustment. Assessment and adjustment require humility, whether it’s being real about our skill level or not sticking with an over-zealous plan that was unreal in the first place. The personal efficacy of reaching certain goals is a reward in-and-of-itself. And it’s a personal reward, not something done for someone else or for recognition from others. Personal development is for each individual.
For me personally, long-term goals are ones that I know will take me a chunk of time to accomplish. For example, there is a book I want to read by Murray Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State coupled with Power and Market, that totals specifically to 1369 pages. I have no idea how long it will take me to read it, or if I’ll ever get through it. It’s one of those kind of books where some parts of it read easy, and other parts of it read more difficult (for me anyway). I’ll only know how to get through it by starting, and then see where my reading takes me. Like mentioned, I have a goal to learn Spanish on a conversational level. The desire to be conversational in Spanish will require time. I know that there are possibilities of immersion out there, but I have neither the time nor desire to do take a month out of my life to do that right now. Additionally, I have set a goal this year to self-publish some poems I’ve written over the last few years. That goal includes several sub-goals. One, I want to find someone to design the book cover the way I want. I also need to learn some ways to at least on a simple level market the collection. I have no idea how many steps and how much time will be required to complete this process. Searching out people who have accomplished such things is another way to get started on reaching one’s goals. That plan is in the workings for now. Another goal is increasing my part-time counseling practice by a few clients. I already have irons in the fire for doing that. And then I have what I would call a vague goal of doing more writing. the vagueness of that goal will only clarify as I start delving into some things I want to write. I list these goals here because they are personally important to me. They represent personal development I want to accomplish for myself. Will they all get done? I have no way of knowing. But I do know this, if I don’t prioritize them, which is another important skill for accomplishing several goals, and get at my personal method for working on them in the here-and-now, they for sure will not get done.
New Year’s Resolutions do not have to be antithetical to personal growth development. But the notion of personal growth takes more that just wishing something to happen. Personal development requires work, energy, and action. Such a requirement, however, doesn’t mean that it has to be empty of fun and enjoyment. It does, however, require personal assessment if one wants to be real about what skill level one has reached. And when one does reach the goal one set out to accomplish, the efficacy that comes with that achievement is powerful indeed, even if just on a personal level. And the personal level can be, and often is, as important as any recognition that might come along the way. And everything gets kicked off in the here-and-now. So have an efficacious year ahead of you.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/January 14th, 2018