New Year resolutions – are they relevant in such dark days?
Can we manage uncertainty?
It’s the start of January, and some of us will have written down our hopes for our new improved selves, the things we would like to achieve, the person we would like to become. It is easy to scoff at setting New Year resolutions, with some people suggesting 80% of them are due to fail.
But, right now, as we struggle through the dark days of the pandemic and post-Brexit reality, uncertainty crowds us from all sides. There is an awful lot outside our control, and it is corrosive and deeply wearing.
How we cope with uncertainty varies a great deal. My own strategy, I notice, involves a fair amount of denial, followed by upset when things do change. I don't like the sense of uncertainty, of not being able to control what is happening (or at least enjoying the illusion that I can control what is going on!). So, denial is a strategy that reduces the amount of worrying I need to do, and this works for some of the time.
Other people are better at accepting a high level of uncertainty and their own limitations within this. I have been curious about how they do this.
In my curiosity, I have asked people how they cope, and I have noticed that elderly Quakers seem particularly good at accepting uncertainty. Whether it is the wisdom of age or their regular spiritual practice, many seem to have deep spiritual resources; an ease of acceptance, a place in their soul where they can find joy and love, whatever the weather outside.
Fear underpins our need to control things. For me, it is a fear of chaos, of being lost, unseen and unsafe. This fear comes from a very young and vulnerable place in me, and it is triggered when it seems that a 'parent figure' such as a manager or, currently, the government, appears not to be in control, not to understand what is going on, or be making wrong and scary decisions.
When we act from this fear-based place, we have limited choices and we are blinkered. Options can feel very black and white, very polarised; “If you aren't with me, you are against me” with very little space in between.
How do we stop acting from fear?
The simplest New Year resolution I heard was exactly this: “I don't want to act out of fear any more, I don't want to be ruled by my fear”.
Do we just need to say this, and will that be enough? It will certainly be a good start. To make it real, we need to turn our intention into a positive statement, so that we focus on what we want, rather than what we don't want, i.e. if not fear, where would you be acting from?
When you have an answer to this, let yourself enjoy what this would feel like. Spend time imagining and feeling what it would feel like to be acting from a place of love, of courage, of trust and belief, whatever it is for you.
The temptation then would be to kick out that scared part, to have nothing to do with it, to lock it away in a box. But, in reality, acceptance and integration of our different parts is the easiest way forward. Take some time to recognise how valuable that sense of fear has been to you, the way that part has protected you over the years, particularly when you were small.
Maybe you don't need quite so much protection now? Spend time with this part of you, this fearful voice inside you and get to know it, get to know its positive intention for you.
What do you need?
More specifically, what does this scared and vulnerable part of you need? It can be very challenging to accept that we have this part, and to meet with it, and to ask this question.
Quite often, the answer is simply attention, rather than rushing around looking after other people. And paying attention means noticing that part of you is feeling a bit scared, or a bit worried, a bit uncertain, and noticing this before this part, in its fear, starts to take over and control your behaviour to the outside world.
Then, once we have noticed this part of ourselves, to stop, take a moment, see what it needs, just as we might stop to stroke a cat that is miaowing for attention, or to scoop up a child on the verge of a tantrum and give them a big hug.
We all find different ways to do this but, ultimately, we are journeying towards a place where we accept each part of ourselves. Peace starts inside us. As we accept and integrate ourselves more, it is less about being able to control ourselves and more about loving ourselves. And this makes uncertainty easier to bear.
Once we let go of needing to control things, we are more at one with the uncertainty - the flow of life - and more open to the opportunities that this ebb and flow and constant change can bring.
So, where does that leave the New Year resolutions? Are they all about control, and trying to shore up some sense of agency in a sea of chaos and fear? I don't think so. I see New Year resolutions (or intentions, as I prefer to call them), as a time for paying attention to what really matters to you.
- Where do you want to be focussing your energy in the coming year?
- When you look back on 2021, what might you be most proud of in yourself?
I enjoy writing down my intentions, where I want to focus my energy, and reviewing how I got on the previous year. I feel they make a difference.
If you decide it's not too late to set some intentions for 2021, here are some steps that may help:
- State them in the positive (i.e. 'I will eat more green vegetables' rather than 'I will stop eating chocolate').
- Spend time imagining what it will feel like if you fulfil this intention, to check how important it is to you.
- Check that your intentions support rather than conflict with each other.
- Share them with someone else – there is a real power in reading them out loud to someone and being heard.
- And then, put them aside. Deepak Chopra recommends “set your intention and let it go”.
Trust your intentions and go out and enjoy the world. Happy New Year!
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