I originally tried to write a post about making more meaningful resolutions. About planning and giving yourself targets and actionable goals to get from where you are now to where you want to be. You see, I did this for myself in 2014 and it seemed miraculous. I got a book deal, I found love, I got promoted. It was a banner year. As I look forward to 2015, I find myself frantically trying to decode how I managed to have all this good fortune all at once.
It’s true I worked hard for these things, and it definitely helped to set intentions and hold myself accountable. I did some goal-setting with a friend of mine and we had regular check-ins. Giving structure to abstract goals like romantic and artistic achievement can be life-changing. And yet, to pretend I was in control of all the things that happened to me in the last twelve months is laughable. I controlled what I could, the rest was fate, God, the universe, whichever your poison.
2014 was a good year, but the ones that come before? Not so much. 2013 was okay. Nothing great happened, nothing terrible happened. But 2012 and 2011? Those were truly awful years, dominated by an all-consuming family crisis and its accompanying emotional pitfalls, poor decisions, and paralysis.
I choose to believe that I did nothing in this life or any former one to bring about those awful years. Sometimes fate is just a real bitch. Martha Beck, one of my all-time favorite wisdom givers, calls this phenomenon a rumble strip, and suggests that much can be learned from them.
It seems that my own rumble strip produced a happier life on the other side. And perhaps this has as much to do with why 2014 was so good as anything else. If I didn’t engineer my bad years, then I suppose I didn’t completely engineer the good one either. Maybe I just had it coming.
One of the things I learned from my bad patch is how much you can’t control: others people’s choices, your family’s health and safety, the vagaries of courts and other bureaucracies. Many things happen that are deeply, profoundly unfair. The upside of being faced with such cosmic indifference, however, is that harnessing the things you can control—your own choices, whom you spend your time with, what you eat, how much you write—suddenly seems wildly simple. That’s the happiness you can plan for, that you can take steps toward.
I like the esteemed Gretchen Rubin (master planner of happiness) on the subject. For her, it’s all about good habits:
“It took me a long time to realize that what I thought of as “resolutions” could almost always be characterized as “habits.” Most often, when people want to make some kind of change in the New Year, they want to master some kind of habit.”
I love a can-do attitude, but we’d all like to get the universe on our side. For this, let’s turn to my girl Martha Beck for a little practical magic.
She suggests using adjectives to describe your goals rather than the regular noun + verb formula, which can focus you on “imagined situations” rather than “Imagined experiences”.
”By using adjectives, you can avoid this trap by focusing all your efforts on the quality of the experience you want to create. This process is harder than “normal” goal setting—it requires some serious soul-searching and perhaps a good thesaurus—but it does pay off.”
Incidentally, one of my goals this year is to get back to blogging. Happy 2015. I’ll be here all year, folks.