The beginning of a new year is an interesting time. Some people see the new year as just another day. Others view it as symbolic of a new beginning, a fresh start. Some of that latter group establish goals they hope to accomplish during the year, thereby setting a baseline against which to measure progress.
Some make New Year’s resolutions in concrete, easily measurable, terms: I will lose X pounds, I will walk Y miles, I will create a new business. Those goals are easy to measure and easy to adjust, as the need to reflect reality arises, during the course of a year.
The purposeful expressions of intent (my definition of resolutions) I find more interesting in many respects, yet far more unsettling, are those which elude simple measure. They tend to be far more profound than their easily measured brethren. I will become a compassionate person. I will love my family more. I will overcome my demons. As I see it, one cannot adjust those resolutions to reflect the realities of failed attainment while maintaining his or her sense of value as a human being. This sort of goal sets its maker up to experience joy upon achieving success or despair upon realizing failure.
Unlike targets with convenient sliding-scale metrics, those more fundamental life-changing expressions of intent are win or lose commitments; the maker either meets the commitment or fails. That’s why I find them far more interesting than what I consider attribute-based resolutions.
A resolution to lose 75 pounds is significant; achieving even half that target is worthy of celebration and congratulation. That resolution, though, implies the maker is doing a tune-up, albeit a major tune-up, and not making a fundamental change in his humanity.
A resolution to become compassionate is significant because it suggests the maker intends, in some elemental way, to reinvent himself as a person. It signifies recognition of a flaw that, if corrected, will change the maker into a better human being, at his core. Failure to accomplish that goal is not simply missing a target; it is an admission of a fundamental human inadequacy. It can cause the maker of the resolution to lose a sense of self-worth.
Of course, what I have written thus far assumes the two types of resolutions are mutually exclusive. I do not believe they are. The person who resolves to lose 75 pounds may also resolve to overcome his demons. In fact, there may well be a connection or even overlap between the easily measurable resolutions and those that reflect core characteristics. It is easy to describe resolutions as belonging to two simple categories, but it is far more difficult to prove the description true.
Some people are comfortable making private resolutions. Others make their resolutions public, for many reasons. In my case, I once set a goal (not a New Year’s resolution) that I made public because I needed to make a public commitment for which I would be held accountable. If I hadn’t made it public, I could have let it slide. But having made it public, I made a commitment and once I made it, I felt compelled to meet it. I needed the support and the fear of unstated “shame” in the event of failure. What I didn’t need was the suggestion I would never be successful.
From my experience, I know that there are many types of resolutions I might opt to make public to put pressure on myself to meet them. And I know there are others I would keep to myself for deeply personal reasons. I know only myself, though. Assumptions I might make about another person may be right or utterly wrong.
Because people can hide frailties beneath tough exteriors, I think it’s best to assume that every resolution a person expresses is, in some manner, connected to a hidden frailty. So, what does that mean, in practical terms?
It’s very simple: assume every resolution reveals something deeply important to that person. By sharing a resolution with you, a person is confiding in you and making an implicit plea for support. So, don’t belittle a resolution. Don’t belittle the person making it.
It won’t hurt you to support a “silly” resolution. It really won’t. Offer encouragement. Celebrate progress. Downplay setbacks, but encourage new efforts to reach the goals. Support less challenging goals if the maker makes adjustments.
Assume the outward expression of a straightforward New Year’s resolution is only the visible part of a person’s effort to reinvent himself. Help that person make his dream a reality.