January 3, 2016

Resolutions are Futile Without this Prerequisite.

Milada Vigerova/Unsplash

“Resolutions” is perhaps the most dominant word of the last day of the Old Year, every year.

Yet, a year will pass by, and we find ourselves in much the same situation as a year before, making much the same resolutions, only with a stronger “I will” in bold, even underlined. And another year will pass; the cycle repeats itself, and along with it ebb and flow waves of depression, because unachieved goals and unfinished projects can be terribly deflating.

The longer they sit on the shelves, the more dust they collect, the more paralyzing they are, the further the light seems to be, until another round of fireworks, until our spirits are momentarily perked up by more confetti.

And repeat.

Resolutions, each one washed down with rounds of champagne, accompanied by external validation, will soon coalesce into a cocktail of self-defeat. Resolutions—an exciting, maddening, discombobulating, self-deceiving, agonizing and eventually depressing, looping roller-coaster ride.

We only realize, but don’t learn that we can’t hold onto them. There’s a reason why. There’s a prerequisite most of us are missing: reckoning. There’s no chance of breaking the tiring loop without it.

Reckoning is an integral part of the journey of self-discovery, a rite of passage in many ways, without which we cannot “ascend” to the next level—to another stage of the journey where we become capable of carrying out our resolutions, practising what we profess and taking them beyond wishful thinking. Through reckoning, we gain excruciating self-awareness. Excruciating because as Brené Brown acutely observes, most of us never genuinely recognize our emotions or feelings; we offload instead. She then zooms in:

“In navigation, the term reckoning, as in dead reckoning, is the process of calculating where you are. To do that, you have to know where you’ve been and what factors influenced how you got to where you now are… Without reckoning, you can’t chart a future course… we can’t chart a brave new course until we recognize exactly where we are, get curious about how we got there, and decide where we want to go. Ours is an emotional reckoning.”

So reckoning is a process of self-calculated alignment. Without alignment, we cannot be truly present in our own lives, much less the lives of others we engage with. We fail ourselves, and disappoint those whom we are not truly there for—not for a lack of good intention, but because we lack the capacity.

Only when there is alignment can there be harmony, synchronicity and focus. Alignment lights us up; alignment makes us resonant.

Conversely, when we are not aligned, we have no grounding. When our body and senses are not in agreement, we cannot manifest our resolutions. It’s simply a matter of physics. Simple, yet profound. The awkward spacing that protrudes out of our misaligned selves make room for anxiety and all the shadows that cripple us. Our flashy resolutions then become faded, and then failures—backfired.

Only when we fail are we forced to re-examine our choices, who we are and where we are. But reckoning at this stage can be aggressively painful. Timing is everything, and reckoning is not so much “review” as it is a prerequisite. Reckoning is seeing and clearing the blocks before you get there. The value resides in its foresight, not hindsight.

In the high school that I went to in Toronto, these “resolutions” took the form of goals we were required to set at the beginning of each semester. We were given a “new term package” to fill out in our mentor classes—a stack of forms and questionnaires that aimed to give us a sense of guidance and direction. They were collected at the end of the mentor period, and given back to us again at the end of each term, and then again at the beginning of a new term.

The goal sheet was never the top sheet. The top sheet was an analysis of where we were—the reckoning, the orientation.

Staying within the theme of academia, courses explicitly list their prerequisites. You cannot take PHIL210 without Introduction to Philosophy, and then Philosophy 110. But once we graduate, life doesn’t quite list its prerequisites as such.

Fast-forward a decade to my career coaching sessions. Before each session, before I checked in with any progress (if at all) or activity, there was a “clearing sheet” to fill out. It was a blank sheet of 8.5 by 11 inch paper, there for “mental flossing” and “emotional dumping.” I could fill it with words, drawings, anything that helped me reckon where I was.

Once that’s established, we move on. For me, it has always been such a boring but necessary procedural, mechanical thing. But more and more, I realize the value of it, the critical power of it, sometimes even the catharsis of it.

“The good news is that in our reckoning we don’t have to pinpoint the emotion accurately—we just need to recognize that we’re feeling something. There will be time to sort out exactly what we’re feeling later.” ~ Brené Brown, Rising Strong

And there will be time for that, I promise you, because time spent on internally grounding ourselves is a much better use of it than time again and again wasted on making the same unattainable wishes.

Here’s to dead-reckoning, and all that it liberates.


Relephant Read:

Dead Reckoning: an Inventory.


Author: Xiren Wang

Editor: Toby Israel

Images: Milada Vigerova/Unsplash // Florian Klauer/Unsplash


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