It’s resolution season: time to commit to changing our lives in the coming year. But I’m not participating — well, not exactly.
It’s resolution season: time to commit to changing our lives in the coming year. But I’m not participating—well, not exactly.
Rather than focusing just on all the ways I’ve failed to self-actualize in the 33-and-a-third years I’ve lived up to this point, I want to focus instead on the habits of mind and body that I feel proud of, the trends I want to continue going into 2019.
Join me. Instead of thinking about failures, shortcomings, and the promises we’ve made to ourselves that we haven’t yet kept, let’s focus on the achievements we’re carrying into the new year.
Here are mine:
What I’ve Done Right in 2018 (and want to do more of in 2019)
1. Process Orientation
David Brooks once wrote an incisive column (I know, I know) about two approaches to living.
Those striving for a Well-Planned Life set goals and allocate resources designed for maximum return on investment. For them, “life comes to appear as a well-designed project, carefully conceived in the beginning, reviewed and adjusted along the way and brought toward a well-rounded fruition.”
Others aim to live a Summoned Life: “At this moment in my life, I am confronted with specific job opportunities and specific options. The important questions are: What are these circumstances summoning me to do? What is needed in this place? What is the most useful social role before me?”
William Easterly applies a similar framework to solving problems of economic development, classifying “planners” as those who come with a predetermined mental model and work to enact it, and “searchers” as those who are more experimental, improvisational, and dynamic. Brooks is neutral on which mode is better, but Easterly clearly prefers searching or summoning.
I’ve long preferred planning, or at least acting with that goal-orientation. In 2018 I worked to move much more towards summoning—or, more accurately, being summoned. In July, I applied for campaign jobs not knowing what state I’d end up in or what role I’d come to fill—I simply felt that circumstances were summoning me to make an attempt to join the midterm fight.
This orientation to process over results has also guided my continued commitment to exercising emotional muscles in therapy and other kinds of muscles in personal training. Both are luxuries of privilege, but they have been singularly worthwhile investments.
Sometimes goal-creep sinks in (if I just get to 15% body fat I’ll be happy!), and so in 2019 I continue to resolve to focus on process; to search and be open to summoning.
2. Openness to Experience
Though being more open wasn’t necessarily a goal of therapy—it’s about the process!—it has been a crucial byproduct. Really, it’s an echo of process orientation: my therapist encourages me to try new things for their own sake, even without a clear vision of what might come of them.
Trying new fitness classes, picking up squash, getting behind the steering wheel of a car, going to more social events with strangers, joining the community board—it’s all unfamiliar terrain where I might not immediately be great at what I’m there to do. Because openness to experience is really openness to failure, openness to feeling subpar.
Openness to failure is, itself, another way to think of compassion for oneself. Not being great at something immediately used to scare me off, but that’s because I hadn’t yet developed the emotional muscles of letting myself off the hook.
And “failure” is too strong a word—it’s really just openness to trying.
3. Intentional Attention
Sometimes planning matters to living one’s values. If we’re too responsive to moment-by-moment circumstance, we risk feeding short-term preferences—scratching dopamine itches—without actually spending our time well.
This imbalance of short-term itch-scratching over long-term value-pursuit has been the scourge of my social media and dating app use—endlessly refreshing Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; endlessly swiping on Tinder and Bumble.
All too often, I don’t learn anything meaningful or meet anyone new. Instead, it’s just the same internecine political fights on Twitter, the same shame-inducing thirst traps on Instagram, and the same partner-in-crime seekers on the apps.
In 2018, I was better at being intentional with my attention. Subscribing to the print New York Times pushed me to a broadened news experience—now I know what’s happening in Hungary as well as what’s happening in the White House. And the world isn’t moving so fast that reading about the latest federal fiasco the next day is materially less informative than seeing it on Twitter in the moment.
For a few months, the print Times replaced my social media use. It was liberating! Without Twitter, I didn’t just read the paper—I read books! But I reactivated my accounts over the summer, and now it’s all piling up and bringing me down.
With the 2020 primaries starting, I made a discrete resolution: no arguing about the candidates online. But staring down the barrel of the new year, I’m thinking that the easiest way to stay intentional—and to avoid the Bernie/Beto battles—is to once again purge those distracting apps from my phone altogether… I’ll do it as soon as I get back from vacation in January, since folks will want to see those beach stories on Instagram.