Successful resolutions start and end with your story.
Who is not born into a world of stories? Before birth, we hear mostly incomprehensible stories as sound — patterns of vocalizations, hums of machines, maybe filtered tunes of music. Throughout childhood, we are told stories before we can read them. We create our own stories out of fantasy, and we don’t always outgrow them. We make stories out of our reality and share them with others, sprinkled with occasional exaggerations and interesting tidbits, because those are the kind of stories we enjoy. Emotions bleed into our stories: the anger we feel towards that one unfair circumstance, the joy of traveling abroad or being rewarded for our work, annoyance at the long line the other day. An extension of our unique experiences and mental states that are transformed into a shared expression, our stories become an integral part of us.
I would like to share a story with you that sets up a reflection exercise: creating your becoming story to enhance any resolutions or goals you may have for 2017.
An almost inaudible creak broke the silence as a hand reached out for a weathered, plastic-bound cover. Finding their target, determined fingers grasped the book. Another creak, signifying the return of the body to the comfortable papasan chair, and there was, once again, silence. Eyes restlessly scanning through the pages detected written thoughts of the past — thoughts that were important enough that they were made more permanent than the transient impressions in the mind that they once were. These were familiar thoughts, which came as no revelation because the mind that was reading was, a few years ago, the same mind that had produced those thoughts.
This was not an ordinary book. Littered with relatively recent dates, haphazard sentence constructions, spelling errors, and general nonsense for anyone other than the current reader, this was a special book of history… a personal storybook containing contents that were meant only for the writer.
A phrase stood out on one page: “becoming better.” There was a time when the author had a desire to become a better person. But what does that mean? Though it’s different for each person, difficult to measure, and likely changes even for the same person, becoming better meant (for this author) not being hijacked by emotions — anger, sadness, stress — all the time, doing well at school and work, and being more healthy and fit. Goals were made, books were read, homework was done.
Page-flipping to the future revealed everything was accomplished. Here was a man who:
- Had more patience with himself and the world. Check!
- Graduated with a strong GPA from a reputable college and had worked in academia, the government, and industry. Double check!
- Developed good eating habits and made exercising frequently a habit. Check again!
What did this calmer, more experienced, healthier man write down during his reflection?
… his desire to be a better person.
He wanted to be more comfortable with and less negatively influenced by emotions, contribute meaningfully to work, achieve good grades in graduate school, and be more healthy and fit. Of course, there were other things — reading more, earning more money, being more kind, contributing more to society. Unless we are completely content with everything, there are always things we want to have, to do, to be. Once we fail or succeed, there are, once again, things. They might be the same things, in different amounts or frequencies, or different things.
Seconds marched onwards, but the author’s mind was frozen in time, engrossed in his past entries and contemplating… “Have I become a better person?” was all that was needed to inadvertently start a mental debate. “Yes! No! Maybe…” From the uncertainty rose an uncomfortable sensation. Changing to a more comfortable position in the chair did nothing to ease it. Neither did the author’s realization there is no end to his journey of becoming a better person; as he improved by the day, month, year, there were still ways to be better. “What fun,” he thought, half-seriously and half-sarcastically. The uncomfortableness finally passed with moaning of the chair — creeeak — when the book was returned to its proper place and a feeling of calm invaded the author’s mind: “that’s just life, I guess.”
The man you’ve read about is me. Have I become a better person? Yes and no. I’m better than before, but not better than who I can be in the future. The person I am now is simply different — better at some things, worse at other things. Now that you’ve read my story, I invite you to reflect on your story!
Creating the story of who you are becoming
January is often a time of reflection and resolution, but many resolutions fail within several weeks! This is no surprise if a resolution is vague, unrealistic, impersonal, and all-or-nothing, when even a single, likely inevitable, failure overshadows all of the initial motivation and successes along the way. This is where your “becoming story” can help because it highlights what’s personally important to you now, as well as how you can achieve your goal in different, specific, and (hopefully) flexible ways.
Locate your personal storybook, then contemplate, as you read through your entries, “what’s the story in this?” and “who am I becoming?” You might think you already know yourself or that you don’t need this exercise, and maybe you’d be right. However, the more time you spend reading and thinking about yourself at different time points, the more you’ll re-discover and be able to piece together details into a story of you. If you are completely lost or don’t own a journal/diary, that’s ok — just follow the steps below with your favorite pencil and some paper:
- What does becoming better mean for YOU? Is it losing 10 pounds? Raising your grades? Being a more supportive parent, lover, or friend?
- Transform your top answer into things you can have, do, and be to help you become better (bonus points for being more specific). For example, becoming fit by having a workout buddy (to lift with at the gym), doing a 7-minute mile (by training 3x a week on the track), and being more forgiving (if there’s a slip up or extra recovery periods are needed).
- Using the template below, create your story:
My name is _______, and I am becoming _______ by:
having _______ (to / with the help of / etc… ___________ ),
doing _______ (at the end of / within / etc… ________ ) ,
and being ________ (even if / by / etc… ________ ).
Having a half-baked resolution is setting yourself up for either self-directed resentment following failure or unfulfillment following “success.” Instead, enjoy a fully cooked resolution by periodically re-visiting and re-evaluating it, considering how it is aligned with the story of who you are becoming.
Thanks for reading!