On Sunday I set my family down and made them to fill out cute little new year’s resolution worksheets. They love it when I do this kind of stuff
to with them. Setting new year’s resolutions is a bittersweet business. There is nothing like the start of a new year to remind us of what we didn’t accomplish in the old year. Being faced with putting plans into writing forced me to confront the ugly truth that there are things on my “wish list” that have been on their for years. (I’ve lost track of how many years “learn Spanish” has been on there.) I wrote them down and then stared at them.
We all know the statistics. The vast majority New Year’s resolutions fail. And of course there are a ton of goal setting tips to help you beat the odds. Certainly goal setting is part of the issue. But I think that part of what happens to us is that we get stuck dreaming old dreams. If you, like me, have been setting the same resolution for several years, then it’s time to ask yourself a question: does this goal fit who I am now?
Sometimes, we stick with a goal because we believe in the good old adage about perseverance. And sometimes that’s good. Failure is a necessary part of achievement, after all. But sometimes, if our hopes keep falling apart over and over again, it’s a sign that a new dream is waiting to be dreamt. As the uncommonly wise Fred Rogers once said, “When we can resign ourselves to the wishes that will never come true, there can be enormous energies available within us for whatever we can do.”
Resignation of old dreams is perhaps half the battle in creating new ones. This isn’t a light-hearted prospect. Rogers goes on to tell the story of a woman who dreamt for years of having children and, upon reaching the heartbreaking conclusion that this wasn’t part of her future, poured her energy and passion into supporting parents. Sometimes, the dreams that we have to let go of are expensive ones, indeed.
However, there is an equally tragic danger in holding on to dreams whose time has passed: we miss out on the opportunities that are just waiting for us to wake up and notice them. We pursue a career that no longer suits our passions, or a dream-spouse who was never really the one for us anyway. Or perhaps the carrot we’re chasing is some hobby that once sounded fun but now feels like pressure. So this year, as we all envision who we want to be in 360 days, maybe it’s wise to ask not just what we want but what we might need to get rid of. What dreams, no matter how precious and wonderful they are, need to be set free to make room for new plans?
Many years ago, when my daughter was a newborn and I was exhausted and overwhelmed (as opposed to now, when she’s older and I’m still overwhelmed and often exhausted) I remember an extended time period where I woke up every day with the goal to clean the bathroom. Every night, I would go to bed with the bathroom uncleaned and feel depressed because I could not accomplish this one, simple goal. Eventually, one morning I woke up and decided, “Today I am NOT cleaning the bathroom.” And I didn’t. I did, however, tackle some other chores. It seems that taking this one onerous chore off my list suddenly freed up a wealth of emotional energy to do other things.
Obviously not all of our goals are as straightforward as bathroom cleaning. Some of them will be genuinely heartbreaking to give up. Like the favorite jeans we hate to get rid off, some of our goals hang around because we’re not sure we’re done with them. “I might need it/want it/return to it someday,” we think. “It just needs a little more perseverance,” we tell ourselves. “This is the year I buckle down!”
This is the tricky bit. When faced with our own un-realized dreams, sometimes it’s not at all clear whether we need more discipline or need to let go. There are two possible ways to go when you’re stuck in that decision-making place.
- Set it aside for a year. Decide that in 2016, you’re not writing a book, starting a business, adopting a child, going back to school, or whatever worthwhile goal you’re wrestling with. Determine to talk 2016 to just see what it feels like NOT to do that—on purpose. See if this frees up energy for other areas.
- Give yourself a deadline. A month is usually more than reasonable. If, by Feb 1, you haven’t made clear progress on your goal, give it up. Let things lie for a bit and see what passion emerges for new things.
Letting go of old dreams is never easy. But it is often necessary. Released from the cumbersome sense of obligation to our past selves, we might find ourselves free to step into amazing new things. We might just find that there is more in store for us than we dreamed, and we only needed to be open to accepting it.
I’m excited to be linking up with the #wholemamas again this week. It’s been a while! Hop on over to Erika’s blog to check out Esther Emery’s post for this week’s word: envision.