Sunday, January 05, 2014

New Years Resolutions and Setting a Purpose

The tradition of making resolutions at the start of each new year is, in a sense, arbitrary. After all, is it not coincidence that it takes 365 days (and a few seconds change) for the Earth to revolve around the sun? Is it not a cultural decision that a new year starts on January 1st? Why make resolutions once a year, rather than whenever the mood strikes us? Despite these concerns, I have found the tradition valuable. A yearly cycle of goal-setting and re-evaluation is not without merit. A month (or week, or day) is too short a cycle for bigger goals, as there is simply not enough time to execute on them. Some goals are even bigger and need a 5-year plan, but even for those, it is good to check in every year to see if those goals need re-adjusting. (I think, generally, that 5-year plans are the longest out most people can plan. Life changes too much to have a firm grip on what the world will look like further ahead than that.) Why even make resolutions? This question has been asked by many after years of setting lofty New Years goals, failing to achieve them, then feeling worse for having bothered. The problem, in my mind, is in setting unachievable goals, or goals that you don't actually want to achieve. When setting a goal based on what you think you probably should be, or rather what you think others want you to be, then those goals are literally a waste of time. When goals are based on what you truly want to be, the effect of setting that goal can be galvanizing. Simply verbalizing a resolution can be enough to tip the scales in favor of action, and gives us something to measure ourselves against. Setting goals can be what it takes to become what we've always wanted to be, when we simply didn't have clear action items to work towards. Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs", first developed in 1943, put Self-Actualization on the top of his pyramid. This meant that other items in the pyramid (food, safety, friends, and confidence) had to be taken care of before Self-Actualization could actually occur. So New Years resolutions are higher-order goals, after our essential needs are met. They are goals we set to define ourselves, and to become finer versions of ourselves. Self-Actualization could also be called Finding A Purpose. In these modern times, purpose is self-defined. It is not handed down by one's God, church, parents, friends, or job. Instead, we are given the unenviable task of defining our own purpose. The thought of this can be intimidating if we have the expectation that purpose should be defined by others, and that the world has too much possibility to narrow down goals on your own. If you are intimidated by purpose, you are likely making a bigger deal out of purpose than it needs to be. "Purpose" as a noun is defined as "the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists". As a noun, Purpose can create a lot of confusion. What is the reason for anything? Why was I created? Why do I exist? Why do any of us exist? Purpose becomes circular when there is nothing external to tell us what our purpose is. "Purpose" as a verb has the much more helpful definition of "have as one's intention or objective". It is as a verb that I think Purpose works the best. Your purpose in this world is simply the intentions and objectives you make. You think about what you want yourself to be, or what you'd like to see in the world, and then set concrete goals that move towards that vision. Your purpose in life is the resolutions you make. No more, and no less. So this year, I hope to make a few practical, achievable resolutions for 2014, based on what I'd like to be and see a year from now. I'm planning on setting my purpose. May you have good luck setting your purpose as well. Happy New Year.