In a previous blog post, I pondered whether New Year’s resolutions are helpful. Most resolutions fail because most are focused on self-sacrifice and self-improvement, and that stuff is really hard.
As Arthur C. Brooks wrote in The Atlantic, it makes sense that such resolutions rarely succeed: “If meeting self-improvement goals were so easy, we wouldn’t need to make resolutions in the first place—we would just change.”
That’s why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Why set myself up for failure?
Then I read this piece in Scientific American titled “The Best New Year’s Resolution Might Be to Just Let Go of an Unfulfilled Life Goal.”
I took notice because Scientific American isn’t my usual conspiracy-peddling, dark web information source. It’s based on . . . science and research.
“Unfulfilled Life Goals” tend to be big and we often measure our self-worth against them. Maybe it’s becoming a CEO or starting your own business. Maybe it’s owning a home, getting married, or becoming a parent. Maybe it’s publishing seven novels.
Giving up on “Unfulfilled Life Goals” isn’t easy. In our culture, we reward persistence, hard work, overcoming obstacles, and spitting in the face of setbacks. We believe in NEVER GIVING UP because giving up is equated with failure.
But some goals simply are not going to be met, no matter what we do. Researchers found that people who continue to stay fixated on “frozen goals” experienced “greater stress, depression and anxiety.”
As reported in Scientific American, “Such people had stopped working toward their goals, but they had not disengaged cognitively or emotionally.”
Disengaging from these unfulfilled goals is the key: “Cognitive strategies exist to help people get unstuck from the pursuit of a fruitless objective. Some work by helping them reappraise the feasibility and desirability of their aims.”
Once disengaged from the unfulfilled goals, and we get past or at least manage our sense of failure and grief, we can replace the unfulfilled goals with other, attainable goals.
Even before I read this article, I realized I was in the process of disengaging from an “Unfulfilled Life Goal” I am unlikely to achieve: publishing seven novels.
Why seven? It’s an arbitrary number I fixated on some years ago. Seven novels felt like a valid measuring stick for a “successful career as a novelist.” In retrospect, maybe I should have picked two or three novels—then I wouldn’t be in this predicament.
It’s not that publishing seven novels can’t happen for me. I’ve had two published by Random House (Stash, Clean Break), another one I published on my own (The Culling), and likely two others coming up. It wouldn’t be that hard for me to reach deep into my drawer of unpublished work, throw a cover on a manuscript, and put it up on Amazon until I reach the magic number seven.
But that wasn’t the goal. The goal had more to do with industry approval and recognition and vast amounts of adoring readers, none of which I’ve ever had any control over. I could only do the writing part and hope for the best.
So I’ve been slowly and admittedly painfully disengaging from this “Unfulfilled Life Goal” and finding other attainable goals to take its place. Like publishing six novels instead of seven! No, not that.
I’m focused on meaningful, personal goals: I’m committed to doing my best work for a client, I’ve registered to take an art class, I perform volunteer work for a literary magazine, and I continue to write fiction and this blog. On top of that, there’s the lifetime goal I’m always attempting to fulfill and will never disengage from: striving to be a reliable, loyal, honest, and committed partner, parent, and friend.
What goals are you setting for yourself, or disengaging from, this year? I hope 2023 is good for you.