Jung's Sofa

Intentions and Resolutions

New YearsI’m a wordsmith. Words are important to me; they are my art and I enjoy the consideration of their meanings and roots. I also write a lot of stuff down. Sometimes the way words fill a page is as satisfying as the actual things they represent. Most writers find planners and journals to be a wicked addiction. Much like gifts, the wrapping is equally, or perhaps more enjoyable, than the content. If ever there was a holiday dedicated to those in the writing industry, it is New Year’s. New Year’s means the opportunity for new plans and new goals and where better to place those ideas than a brand-spanking-new planner or journal. Oh those lovely and enticing blank pages and unassigned dates, just waiting for pen, pencil or keystroke. The possible future represented in words, check-lists, and single-lined proclamations.

I read a great post about New Year’s Resolutions on Lynda Dietz’s blog, Life as Only I Know It, and her article got me to thinking about resolutions. I no longer use the term “resolution.” As a writer I know that words have meaning and as a psychologist I understand the embedded meaning in symbols can influence our attitudes and decisions. Good and bad connotations always affect and effect our interactions. You may, for example, love cottage cheese until I describe it as a festering blot scraped from the infected tonsils of a strep throat patient. My wife consumes far less of the alien substance since I’ve shared this particular imagery, much in the same way she taught me to no longer perceive “fine” as a synonym for okay or good.

Resolution is primarily defined as: the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict or problem. Conflict and Problem are not inherently joyous or celebratory words. They suggest a negative interaction. The word resolution implies we have a problem or conflict that requires solving. To resolve would mean achievement through the reduction of an issue, the elimination of a problem. It doesn’t suggest advancement. I don’t want my life goals to begin with statements that suggests— I would suck less if only I. I also don’t want my next year focused on an elimination list. Mostly, I don’t want a statement whereby failure is so black and white. If I resolve to loss thirty pounds and I achieve only twenty, did I fail? According to my resolution I did.

True creation is a positive action, not a negative one. Unfortunately, so many resolutions are proclamations that suggest that up to this point you have failed – you weigh too much, your are not this or that, you don’t have a good job, or a good relationship. A resolution is a specific solution to a specific problem. In my experience, seldom does such direct causation exist. A “happier, better or more enjoyable” experience is often the result of many small changes — not a single one.  It may all sound as semantics, but if that were true then you would find it just as joyful when your beloved says, “I really like you” as when they say, “I really love you” — after all both words suggest affection.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I love my life, I am proud of my achievements, I don’t judge myself or others too harshly, and I don’t contemplate a finish line, only the next step. I certainly don’t require a boorish list of conflicts and problems to resolve —I’m a writer not the Secretary of Defense. So instead I make New Year’s Intentions. Intentions are defined as: the thing that you plan to do or achieve: an aim or purpose. Intentions are positive, they leave room to be human, and contain far less judgments. They are simple. They are, as the definition states, about purpose and achievement, not problems and conflict. They suggest growth over constraint where achievement means the addition of something, not the subtraction of something.

As a creative type I also enjoy improvisation. A little leeway to achieve a goal through different means. Resolutions seem so finite. They suggest a single answer or a 100% solution. Resolutions can be broken and reflect the thing you just did or didn’t do. Intentions always focus on the future, on the possible things you still can do to achieve your goal regardless of mistake or misstep. Intentions are the pathway to a goal. Resolutions represent a fixed finish line. Intentions are broad and they open us to the possibility that there are many paths to our ultimate goal.

If you’ve always made resolutions, this year try intentions. You’ll find the subtle change in words changes your attitude towards those goals. You‘ll find the things you intend are much broader and much larger than your list of resolutions. You won’t fail as many often do with resolutions. When you break a resolution, you have to start over. When you don’t adhere to your intentions, you can start up again immediately. Intentions don’t come with a “days since” calendar or a particularly hostile score card of wins and losses. If you resolve to lose weight and find in February you have not been to the gym, you often just quit. If you intend to lose weight, however, you can try again, you can do better because with intentions every action counts – not every inaction. If you intend to write a book, you can do all or some of it each month, or day or on the last day. If you resolve to “write every week” then by design you fail the first week you don’t write. Resolutions turn out to be the very small things. They appear so urgent yet are often so unimportant. Intentions are the grander purposes of your life. They are very important, but the urgency is about growth—a slower, more methodical process, not a process of all or nothing instant change.

A long time ago intentions got a bad reputation. Some genius wrote, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and since then the word has become synonymous with “excuses” or “delays.” Such a saying was based on very puritan ideals that forgot “to err is human, but to forgive is divine.” That’s what happens when you wear rough wool clothing -you become inflexible and ornery. I prefer to believe that Humans are perfect in their imperfections. I believe the road to hell is paved with impossible resolutions. Unforgiving, inflexible statements whose only purpose is to widdle away the very self-confidence whose absence is the reason we don’t achieve our full potential.

Resolutions are symbols of our perceived failures. Intentions are symbols of our potential successes. Resolutions suggest that you are not “good enough.” A checklist of past and future failures. Resolutions speak to what you lack rather than your gifts. Intentions are potential. They speak to who you want to be and what you believe you can achieve. They suggest a long-term commitment and a willingness to try and try again, to work harder but in balance, to improve what is already good and make it better. The world won’t love you any more or less if you finally lose weight, or if you write that book, or the hundred of other things you think you need to remove from your life. The world will show you a different face only when you are in action — moving towards something of importance. The universe loves growth not retraction.

So this year don’t resolve, don’t search for a solution, or focus on a conflict – most conflicts are just ‘you versus you’ anyway. Instead “intend” to be that person you wish to be, to do those things you believe you can do. and to take the first step towards that future you know you can obtain. Forgive yourself and take stock in all the right choices you’ve made and intend to repeat those choices, to expand them – don’t resolve to make a change, simply make improvements – don’t practice reduction, practice addition. Add good things to your life and the bad things will have less room. Resolutions are a focus on the reasons you believe you don’t have the good things. Intentions are the focus on the addition of more good things. The words makes a difference — I hope these 1,395 made a difference for you – Happy New Year!

8 replies »

  1. Intentions. I like that. I also like the idea of tossing out that scratchy wool. Now I get to cross one thing off the list right away…

    Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve!

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