Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Are we getting New Years Resolutions wrong?

New Years resolutions chronically don't work. They're essentially wishes we make each year. At the beginning it's fun to pretend we'll keep them up until the reality kicks in a few days/weeks later--there were reasons we'd never X-ed before. Whether X is quitting smoking, going on that diet you've been thinking about since your last one failed, or learning something new like a language, it's all the same story.

Meanwhile, people can actually have a lot of success setting goals and achieving them during other days of the year. So where do New Year resolutions go so wrong?

They're normally always things that (a) one doesn't really want but just feels some pressure to attain (smoking/dieting/new language can all fall into this category). Or (b) one does want but has substantial reason why they've not already achieved it, which they've not really thought about enough to resolve. Overeating can be symptomatic of some larger emotional or mental health issue, for instance, and when this is the case dieting becomes the easy part. But even things like 'being too lazy' to go to your new class to learn X can really be about other, larger problems.

But there is something symbolic about a 'new year'. A fresh start, if you will. So perhaps News Years Resolutions themselves shouldn't be thrown out with the bath water. In this case the 'bath water' being: how terrible we are at making them. Because maybe that's the point. The ones we make are made badly, and that's why we can't do better at keeping them.

This year I'm trying out a new approach. I've set myself a New Year resolution for something I have evidence that I want, have spent a lot of time thinking about why I haven't done, and have realised (and this is the crucial bit) that it's mostly fear that stops me. In this case that thing is: to learn to draw bold and competent pieces from my imagination. I know that I'd like to do this, because I do draw a lot (so it's clearly something I'm serious about). But I always sketch portraits from photos and my biggest frustration with it is that, although I can try to communicate a lot about the person in how I draw them, that's a very limited form of creative expression. Meanwhile I can often see in my head drawings I'd love to put down, but I lack the skills. So that's my evidence that I want to do it, but I'm also aware that the reason I haven't already is fear, fear, fear.

The mean, self-hating part of my brain tells me how for some magical reason I'm the one person in the world who'll just never understand how to learn this, and even if I did they'd all be crap because I have some creativity clamp in my brain that stops me from having better drawing ideas. But aside from that delusion, it's also just hard to go back to being bad at drawing, having got my sketches to a place I'm reasonably proud of. You have to face frustrations you've long forgotten. And it might be a while before you have anything you'd be proud to show people.

The nice thing about fear being the obstacle, though, is you can face fears in a way that you can't easily 'face', for example, emotional and mental health problems. The latter takes time and often some professional help. The former can slide away by just ramping yourself up to believe you can do it, and finding a nice manageable step to start you off. And is it just me or is the New Year the perfect time to feel 'ramped up'. You look back on your year, you look forward to a new one, and you find yourself feeling like 'is this holding-back fear really worth it?' When the answer is no, it's the perfect opportunity to get started on this old goal. Enjoying the easy measurement of a calender year to note your progress.

I'll have to see over the year if this approach works, but I'm liking it theoretically. And a week in, I'm enjoying learning about drawing. I'd share one hear, but for the time being, they don't look much better than this little guy:

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