Why resolutions can often just increase problems

Carl Rogers suggested that a lot of the distress or anxiety in our lives comes when there is incongruence between the ideal image of the self which we have,  and our actual lived experience. This anxiety is expressed differently in each person, due to the many ways that the self-image is formed. Around New Years Day we are encouraged, even on some well-meaning sites, to form resolutions for the coming year, to look at the many ways in which we need to change. Now,  reflecting on the discipline needed to establish healthy practices in our lives is a good thing, as is being inspired by other people. And there is often a desire in the winter months to reflect on what brought the deepest joy over the past year and  shed dead wood in preparation for new growth  – or symbolically throw old plates out the window, as the Italians do. So working at our edge gently is always necessary in our lives.  However, over the years, I have come to believe that, instead of helping, a lot of these notions –   and the pre-digested strategies offered –  actually feed the problem, by strengthening the thoughts about an ideal self which we wish to have, and our need to fix ourselves to get it. Ironically, continually setting expectations of sudden growth – frequently encouraged in today’s society – can introduce a subtle violence in how we relate to ourselves and prevent us from deeper happiness, because it feeds three tendencies which our minds have. The first is the temptation to believe that there is a magic time in the future – maybe next year – when we are going to get it “all together”, and our lives will be perfect,  once we do such and such a practice or adopt some latest idea. Second, it encourages us to move away from the life which we actually have , and spend our time in thoughts about the life we would like to have. And,  as we notice again and again in practice, the mind prefers to spend more time in thinking about life than in working with what is actually in front of us, right now.  Thirdly, it stimulates the “comparing mind”, which is happy to evoke a better version of ourselves, which seems a good thing but frequently triggers discouragement and fear rather than a real ability to change. Often making expectations for the future is just a way of running away from relating to the life we actually have.  So,  maybe the best “resolution” is to give up on this notion of fixing oneself, and  rather focus on how we can deepen our lived experiences right now, with all their imperfections.  For most of us, that is where we are called to grow, and our slow commitment to more conscious living is better served by that, rather than by seeking magic changes in the coming weeks which will bring us suddenly to perfection.

Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator, or unhealthy, or lazy, or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.

Shoma Morita

3 thoughts on “Why resolutions can often just increase problems

  1. This is such a helpful and beautiful insight Karl! I will be walking the streets of NYC (which is the great city despite its commercialism) with this thought today: focus on how we can deepen our lived experiences right now, with all their imperfections.
    My very best wishes for a New Year!

  2. Quite wonderful, and a great guide for entering upon the New Year.
    All good wishes to you for a happy, healthy, productive and satisfying 2012!
    With thanks for the daily counsel, wisdom, sometime solace and often inspiration of your blog, Judith

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