What is Resolution?
In fiction, a Resolution is the event in the story that solves (or resolves) the conflict. While in photography, the term has to do with the sharpness of the image, with clarity in the sense that the lower the resolution the more pixelated or blurry the image. When I thought about these two things, I saw the act of making a Resolution in a different way. As an attempt to solve a main conflict. As an act needed to create an image that most clearly represents the original, the authentic thing. With these ideas in mind, I see a resolution as a positive thing, as a way of ending some sort of misalignment of your values and your actions, and also as a way of being clear about who you truly are. But that has not always been the case.
When I was young, the idea of New Year’s Resolutions always left a sour taste in my mouth. I don’t recall ever making them, though many people I knew did each year. I think the biggest reason I resisted was because for me the word resolution had taken on a rather negative connotation. One that implied something that was wrong, something that had been neglected, something that you did because you were supposed to, and so on. You quit drinking because for the past year you drank too much. You quit smoking because, well, you may have put yourself (and others) in a less than healthy situation. You promised yourself you’d lose weight because for one reason or another you didn’t maintain the weight you should have.
Now, I realize, some resolutions are to add something to your life (like learn a new language, travel around the world, help others.) But when I was growing up, the resolutions that I was aware of most were the ones that seemed to suggest a sudden need to fix something that you may have been aware of all along, but suddenly with the arrival of the new year it was time to actually act on that.
I never made those resolutions, but not because I didn’t neglect things in my life or overdo things, or ignore things that needed to be heeded. I avoided making them, mostly, because of those negative connotations I mentioned.
This year, we had a very laid back, simple New Year’s Eve. And I was invited to take part in an activity that I had never thought about before. That’s right, we went out in the snow. But before we did, we made a list of all the things we intended to let go of in 2013. We also made a list of the way we wanted to feel in the coming year. I’ll admit it, when I first heard of the idea, I sort of tilted my head a bit to the side and wondered, is there a purpose to this. But I soon found there is.
It’s not some new aged thing either. It turns out to actually be an emotional thing. A mental thing. And, oddly enough, because of those two parts, it also turns out to be a physical thing.
I made my list and, surprisingly, the things I wanted to let go of came fast and furious. I have a tendency to try to help everyone. Noble, perhaps, but not very healthy. I mean, people do need to figure their own stuff out. So I decided I needed to let go of certain moments of intended helpfulness. I decided to let go of taking things personally. Of expecting other people to slow down and be considerate of the things I thought they should. I guess you could say, I decided to let go of some subconscious propensity to try to avoid negative outcomes in other people’s lives and focus more on my own life, more on the positive current moments in my life. Making that list felt a lot like venting to someone via a letter. Only no one was going to see it. And that felt surprisingly liberating.
Making the list of how I wanted to feel was a little more awkward at first, only because I had to turn the spotlight onto myself and, specifically, onto my emotions. But I thought back on that quote a friend wrote in her novel, to “treat yourself the way you’d want other people to treat you.” So, I thought, in an ideal world, how would I want to feel about my work, my choices, my fitness, my mental acuity, and so on. Soon, I was making another rapid-fire list. And each time I wrote down a positive feeling, I felt different. As if, word by word, I was brightening inside.
Now, most people who know me, know that I’m a positive person. I tend to be the guy who brings levity and humor and smiles and positive energy to most situations. And you might be the same way. But even if you are, how often do you stop to think about all the wonderful ways you’d like to feel about your life, about yourself?
I started thinking about my goals, my dreams, and also about the myriad challenges that I face each day and how I truly wanted to feel after experiencing those challenges (and a desired positive feeling meant success, after all, meant overcoming or effectively encountering those challenges). Without even consciously setting out to do so, I started to see myself achieving things, finishing my novel . . . no not just finishing it, making it amazing . . . yes, amazing, and then there were agents calling me, not just sending a letter, but calling me – “we want to work with you” – and editors, and so on. And with each image (which I had not set out to create, and maybe that’s why the whole thing struck me so), I started to feel better and better, more and more energized, more and more excited about all the possibilities.
Then we were told, “fold your lists and bring them with you.” We went out into the cold, the blustery wind, put an aluminum bowl in the snow, gave up the list of things we wanted to let go of, and burned it. We burned the list of how we want to feel. Words were said, honoring this aspect of ourselves and also the act itself, so that it wasn’t merely symbolic and yet was very symbolic. I’d never done this activity before, but found it much more interesting than I had thought I would. In part because I felt a bit more open, a bit lighter, a bit more free (like after the biggest of sighs). I hadn’t made an actual promise to stop neglecting this part of my life or to undo this mistake, yet that’s exactly what I had done.
Since that night, I’ve found myself in situations and I stopped and reflected on how, “no, you were letting go of that,” and I’ve reminded myself, “you wanted to feel good about the time you spent doing that.” And, in reminding myself, my emotions have shifted. And my thoughts have shifted. And I have noticed a change in how I’ve felt physically. And I know the words “feeling” and “emotion” are often used interchangeably even though they have different meanings. I do it myself. But the thing is, I noticed a change in the way my body felt as a result of the change in my emotional state.
I’m not saying you need to try this activity, but all it takes is some paper, a pen, a match, and some fire safety. That’s not much of an investment, but the return can be quite surprising.
In thinking about New Year’s Resolutions (and that mostly negative connotation I grew up associating with the idea behind them), I’m not going to suggest that you give up setting them if that’s what you do. But I will ask you to consider this – do you make resolutions because you think you need to, because you have to make up for what you failed to do the previous year, because you’ve neglected some aspect of your life and you need to make it right? Doing something because you think you should, or out of feelings of guilt, is a reason why making resolutions often fail.
If you make any new year’s resolutions, I wish you much success. Perhaps you might try keeping that element of fiction in mind. Perhaps you might approach them with that element of photography in mind. Choose a resolution that ends a conflict by helping you re-align your values with your actions. One that allows you to be clear about who you truly are (not how you look to others, not how you think others want you to appear, but to most closely represent the original, the authentic, you)!
A resolution doesn’t need to be a revolution (an all out uprising, a complete and dramatic change). If we try each day to bring ourselves into focus, to present (to ourselves as much as to anyone else) a clear image of who we truly are, we won’t find ourselves at the end of the year feeling like we have to make up for not being ourselves.
Try letting go of something you need to let go of (maybe just start with one thing). And try making a list of the ways you want to feel. You might just be surprised at how quickly you start to feel that way.