I don’t know if it’s how cliché it seems. Or the inherent expectation that one won’t follow through on them past a few weeks, at best. Or how arbitrary it feels to make them at the beginning of the calendar year.
Maybe you feel similarly. Maybe you disagree vehemently with me.
Regardless, though I don’t like New Year’s resolutions, I do support setting goals and working toward them, whether they are made on January 1st or any other day of the year.
Whether your goals are new or old or yet to be made, I want to encourage you with two messages of hope.
One of my graduate school professors, Dr. Jeffrey Bjorck, taught me a metaphor that I use all the time with the people I work with in therapy (and with myself!). When people encounter an issue that they have been working so hard on and thought they had put behind them, they tend to feel like they are walking in circles, not getting anywhere. Not so! Dr. Bjorck claimed. Instead, picture a spiral staircase (I will sometimes use the cord on my office phone as a prop – yes, we still have landlines!). True, when walking upward, you will return to the same sides of the circle over and over again, but you are not in the same spot, vertically speaking.
You are higher up.
You have made progress.
You can look back at how far you have come.
You can use what you have learned from facing this issue before (perhaps multiple times, even).
You are not moving in circles; you are ascending.
Perhaps the second hopeful message is the same as the first, just packaged differently. (Thanks to one of my church’s pastors, Nate Macy, for this quote!) In his novella, “Worstward Ho,” Samuel Beckett, the Irish writer, director, poet, and translator, wrote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Try and fail, my friends! Try and fail. And then do it again. And again. And again.
Perhaps that is what I hate most about New Year’s resolutions: the idea that once you make a mistake on your goal, you have failed for the year.
But this need not be so!
Which is good, because that’s not how we humans work.
To quote Jake the Dog from the cartoon, Adventure Time, “Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.”
We are all works in progress. We never reach completion this side of eternity.
So, fail away, my friends! Fail spectacularly! Then try again. And fail in a new and different way!
Lather, rinse, and repeat.
I look forward to waving at you all as we see each other climbing those spiral staircases! I’ll shout words of encouragement to you, and I hope you’ll do the same for me.
(Continue the conversation in the comments, below!)
Justin T. Neiman Westbrook
Justin T. Neiman Westbrook, Ph.D., is a Teaching Psychologist at the Internal Medicine Clinic at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, OR, who helps people with a range of mental health issues, as well as with issues in daily living, including spiritual concerns and self-care. Justin serves as Eden Spiritual Care's secretary/treasurer.